Sundance 2016: Day 3

Day 3 of Sundance was a weird day. I saw some weird movies, received some very bad personal news which affected my memory of the day and of the movies I saw, and offered a lot of whiplash for both reasons. None of the movies here scream “brilliant”, but I certainly have something to say about all of them because they’re all a bit odd. Let’s get to it:

Southside with You

Director: Richard Tanne
Writer: Richard Tanne
Stars: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Taylar Fondren

Southside with You is a bit of an odd film. Telling a fictionalized account of Barack Obama’s initial courtship of his future wife Michelle Robinson, the film tells a very sweet love story with the backdrop of a racially charged America. The main thing that makes this movie odd, as you may have guessed, is that Barack and Michelle Obama aren’t just still alive, but they’re still in the White House. Their first date happened in 1989, and so the actors are playing younger versions of the current top executive family in the United States, but there’s still something a bit uncanny about it. Especially since, as the director Richard Tanne revealed in Q&A, the Obamas have no involvement in the film but are aware of it. One can only imagine what seeing it will be like for them, especially since the film is based in fact and only takes a few liberties for the sake of drama and pacing. However, this doesn’t diminish the strength and relevancy of the film. It’s about the Obama’s, sure, but it’s also about their formation by and relationship to America. On their date in 1989 they visit the Art Institute of Chicago, to see an Afro-fusion exhibition. They visit a town hall meeting where Barack speaks as a former community organizer. They see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, a film that is relevant to issues today as much as it did in 1989. It’s a politically charged romance, but how could it not be? It’s a solid love story about “characters” that we don’t see every day (to be explicit, black people, dealing with their blackness). It’s a sweet movie, and one that I think will speak to a lot of people in a very strong way. As weird as it is to see our current President in a movie about his youth, there’s still a lot to this movie and it was certainly one of the better films I saw at Sundance this year.

Wild

Director: Nicolette Krebitz
Writer: Nicolette Krebitz (screenplay)
Stars: Lilith Stangenberg, Georg Friedrich, Silke Bodenbender

The first thing you need to know about Wild was that I was carded before I could enter this movie. I don’t know what I was expecting when I went into this film, but I was not expecting this. The first thing I thought when I got out of the theater was “I was expecting more wolf fucking, honestly.” Wild is a German movie about a girl with a boring job as an IT assistant at a boring media company. On her walk home through the park she encounters a wolf, which entrances her. What follows is a weird, liberating, and disgustingly fascinating trip as she literally falls in love with the wolf. I don’t think this film was meant for me, but it had a very strong sense of self and purpose. I had to give it a 3 out of 4 just because it had the courage to be made. Working with an actual wolf, that’s not nothing. It adds a serious sense of authenticity to a film that in a way is about authenticity. It’s also about liberation, and about being a woman in a male dominated world. I find Wild to be very hard to describe or categorize after the fact, but it’s certainly not something I think I will ever be able to forget. Not everyone can like a film about a women falling in love with a wolf, but for those who can I suppose you are in for a real treat.

Brahman Naman

Director: Qaushiq Mukherjee
Writer: Naman Ramachandran
Stars: Chaitanya Varad, Vaishwath Shankar, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy

What a weird movie. I feel like I’m not the right person to review this movie, because I know I didn’t “get” it, even though I can recognize there was something to be gotten. Brahman Naman is about a group of college students in 1980’s India who are champions of their school’s Quiz team. Led by the eponymous Naman, they are as determined to win the Quiz Bowl as they are to lose their virginity. But that’s just the surface. Underlying a battle of nerds vs. jocks, or of the sexual tension of early adulthood, is the terrible caste system that makes Naman and his friend Brahman, above the other castes. It informs their views on life that in some ways turn them into monsters. But, as a Jewish American who grew up in Chicago, I can’t say I got all of the references and subtle messages about the caste system in the movie. I can barely say I got the overt messages. The dialogue is very sharp and very witty and delivered at lightning speed, so even if you don’t get the subtler aspects of it it’s still wildly entertaining. And besides the sharp political commentary, there are also a huge heaping helping of dick and masturbation jokes to keep you following along. Let’s be very clear: while there are very serious and disturbing undertones in this movie, it is a raucous romp of hilarious proportions. I exited the movie wondering if I thought it was great, but not whether it was well crafted or entertaining. I’m not sure I got it, but I definitely would have like to.

Yoga Hosers

Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Stars: Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Melody Depp, Johnny Depp

In preparation of seeing this movie, I watched Clerks, which I enjoyed quite a bit, and gave me a clearer understanding of Kevin Smith (with the addition of having already seen Dogma, which I think is a great movie). It was possibly the most Sundance thing I did the entire fest, and I think it was worth it, because it allowed me to chart the course that brought Kevin Smith to this movie in the first place. Yoga Hosers isn’t female Clerks, but it also is in a strange and whimsical way. Kevin Smith talked before and after the film (for a bit too long, but he was too endearing and entertaining for anyone to stop him I think), and the long string of events that led from Tusk’s shooting to the creation of Yoga Hosers, and it’s obvious that even though Yoga Hosers is a dumb movie, it’s one that Smith and co really enjoyed creating, and I think that shows. The film is about two characters who (apparently) showed up in Tusk, a pair of convenience store clerks known as the Colleens played by Smith’s daughter Harley and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose. They are typical high school sophomores who hate their job, are on their phones literally all of the time, and get super hyped when they are invited to a seniors party. They sound like they should be annoying, and that the film is about these youths and how they are so frivolous, but it very weirdly isn’t. The film is almost from their perspective, and they are unquestionably the heroes here, stopping evil Nazi bratwursts (Bratzis) from taking over Canada. I found myself loving watching the Colleens antics and adventures, and even though I know it’s all a part of Kevin Smith’s shared universe shtick, I found myself cheering with the rest of the crowd when the credits promised they would return in Smith’s next film. There is an almost surprising amount to talk about with this movie, from Smith’s love of Canada, to his creation of two teenage girl superheroes, to the fact that the film stars his own daughter in a role that has her destroying sausages that are trying to attack her. That Smith himself plays. (“It’s a message movie!” Smith said during the Q&A). There’s also some incredibly not subtle messages about critics and about artists responding to critics poorly, to the point of being laughable. It’s surprisingly filled with good intention, and doesn’t come off mean at all. It’s a Kevin Smith movie for teenage girls, and I think for that it actually works quite well. I’m not a teenage girl, but I feel like if I was one, I would love this movie to pieces. This movie isn’t a masterpiece, it isn’t even really great, like Dogma is. It’s not going to make a splash like Clerks did. It’s a dumb movie about the Colleens stopping Nazis and Satanists in Canada while attempting to be popular on the internet, as we all do. But it’s a funny kind of dumb, a good kind of dumb. I had fun with it, and I definitely think you will too if it crosses your path.

Here’s the link to my reviews from Day 1 of Sundance, and Day 2.

And here’s the link to the next one, Day 4.

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