Sundance London 2013 – Friday Report
Day 2 and romance was in the air. Co-written with Ira Glass of This American Life fame Sleepwalk With Me is yet another off-kilter romantic comedy, translated from the drawled musings of stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia. At something of an impasse in his life Mike tends bar whilst nurturing a tentative stand-up career, as he watches all his friends and family marry and progress in their respective professions. He’s been seeing his hippyish girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) for eight years and everyone is expecting him to pop the question soon, but a bought of dangerous, deteriorating sleepwalking and dream reenactments manifest due to his deeply submerged anxieties. Shot in a confessional style with Birbiglia breaking the fourth wall to directly address the audience one can’t help but think that this is a This American Life monologue stretched out to an admittedly brisk 80 minute feature, and it lacks the charm or humor to maintain its increasingly tedious trajectory. The success of the film partially depends on the likability of Birbiglia given his conspiratorial inclusion with the audience, but the sketches and asides fail to craft the required chuckles, and its difficult to care about Birbiglia’s dilemma when he’s not the most charismatic or chortle inducing chap.
More successful in mining the perils of modern relationships is Lynn Shelton, a perennial Sundance presence who returns to the festival with her fifth feature Touchy Feely. The cast reads like an incantation from a Indie casting agents rolodesk – Rosemarie DeWitt, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Alison Janey and Ron Livingstone – in this gentle drama about a family relationships and yearning for love. DeWitt is a masseuse who is undergoing a crisis of confidence when she suddenly finds touching bodies repellent, her antipathy coinciding with an offer to move in with hr cyclist boyfriend (McNairy). Her meek brother Paul (Josh Pais) is a dentist whose struggling practice has guilt tripped his daughter (Page) into continuing the family business, suddenly blessed with a healing touch his fortunes rise while his sisters fall. Whilst it takes time to gain traction this manipulative drama finally engages the empathy around the half-way mark, with a scattering of laughs and acutely observed moments, with Pais controlled and meek performance the film’s affectionate apogee. It never rises to the heights of Shelton’s critically touched My Sisters Sister from last year, but bodes well for Shelton’s next feature foray with her first project culled from an existing script which is currently in pre-production.
The second treasure of the festival so far is Jeff Nichol’s Mud, the follow-up to his hugely admired Take Shelter and it’s Armageddon hued paranoia. Nichols is clearly adept in building his films around towering central performances, and as the trailer suggests another simmering performance from current favourite Matthew McConaughey sets the screen ablaze, a fugitive on the run from the law and evil men who want him dead for the killing of a mobsters abusive son. Two young boys Ellis and Neckline are beguiled by Mud’s charismatic danger, and offer to help him reunite with his lover Juniper, portrayed with a grainy gumption by amnesiac law baiting Reese ‘Do You Know Who I am?’ Wetherspoon.
McConaughey smolders with his usual line in bayou soaked homilies, but Tye Sheridan is the films most fecund fulcrum, it’s his odyssey of innocence lost among the cricket chirped plains of Arkansas. You can almost smell the bubbling gumbo and corn rye bourbon wafting from the screen, it has a terrific sense of place and location independent from the West and East metroploli that usually house American cinema. Mud is bulky and capacious filmmaking, a Cormac McCarthyesque tale he hasn’t written yet, a story of fathers and sons burning in a post biblical parable. Fans of film will revel in seeing Joe Don Baker back on screen, the scene where he orders his henchmen to link hands, fall to one knee and pray for the death of the man who murdered his son is one of the great individual screen moments of the year.
– John McEntee