Sundance 2016: Day 4

So Monday was an odd day at Sundance for me. I only saw 2 movies, and was fairly sick actually with a helluva cold. But both of the movies I saw were excellent and of particular interest. Especially How to Tell You’re a Douchebag, which, full disclosure, my parents were executive producers and which I attended a test screening for last year before the film was in the festival. Anyway, let’s get into it.

Sleight

Director: J.D. Dillard
Writers: J.D. Dillard (as Jd Dillard), Alex Theurer
Stars: Jacob Latimore, Dulé Hill, Seychelle Gabriel

Sleight, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, is a superhero origin story. The film opens with our main character Bo’s mother dying just as he’s about to graduate high school with a prestigious scholarship for engineering. We flash forward a year, and he has become a street magician and drug dealer in order to make ends meet and take care of his little sister. But we quickly learn that there’s something off about his magic, it’s almost too magical. Using his clever engineering ability he has been able to install an electromagnet in his own arm. It’s a pretty hardcore way of performing magic, and his explanation for why he did it is amazing in its own right. Quickly being a low time drug dealer turns sour for Bo and he is forced to either find the money to get out, or he’s going to put the people he loves in real danger. Dulé Hill has a great turn as a villain in the leader of the gang Bo deals drugs for, Angelo. Taking all of the charm and quick wit he had as Gus on Psych, and turning it to a very menacing place makes for a nuanced villain role that you almost can’t help but like even as he’s the source of all the tension in every scene he’s in. The action is exciting, the effects are fantastic for what couldn’t have been a large budget, and all of the actors are really bringing their A game, especially Seychelle Gabriel, who I know as the voice of Asami from the Legend of Korra, who here plays Bo’s new girlfriend, Holly, who helps him to navigate the dangerous path he’s on as much as he’s there to help her find the courage to get out of her own bad situation. If there’s a strong theme for the movie, it’s about getting out, and about how circumstance can turn any person either into a monster or into a victim. If there’s anything to fault the movie for, it’s in its themes, which, for me at least, never quite congealed. My first reaction was being unable to find the thematic cohesion, but with time I’ve found that Bo’s superpower has a lot more thematic resonance than I gave it credit for. This is an amazing movie, let there be no doubt. This is not one to miss, and if the ending of the film is anything to go by, I hope we see more from Bo in the future.

How to Tell You’re a Douchebag

Director: Tahir Jetter
Writer: Tahir Jetter
Stars: Charles Brice, DeWanda Wise, William Jackson Harper, Jenna Williams

It’s hard to divorce my opinion of How to Tell You’re a Douchebag from my previous viewing of the movie late last year, when it was just a test screening, and the movie was still hoping to get into Sundance. I was able to give input, and so I can’t help but feel pride in the fact the movie is now so much better, and is such a beacon of quality. How to Tell You’re a Douchebag, a film written and directed by Tahir Jetter, is a romantic comedy about a misogynist who falls in love. It’s about dating in the black community in urban areas, New York in particular. It’s about working to be a better person than you are. Ray Livingston is a “freelance writer” who runs a blog named “Occasionally Dating Black Women”. After a particularly bad week he takes his anger out on a women passing on the street who happens to be an up and coming writer named Rochelle Marseilles. She quickly puts him in the crosshairs of the internet and his credibility begins to dry up. It’s Ray’s attempts at apology that put him in a situation where he either needs to grow or give up. The film has a sharp wit and an even sharper perception of romantic dynamics as they are experienced by people today. This combination makes for a smart, funny, and almost surprisingly sweet film that makes you take the sides of both Ray and Rochelle as their relationship flows and flips in weird ways. Special attention needs to be paid to Charles Brice as Ray and DeWanda Wise as Rochelle, two amazing performances without which the film would be a lesser thing indeed. While How to Tell You’re a Douchebag may be a bit autobiographical on the part of Mr. Jetter, it’s amazing the amount of perspective he’s able to bring to the picture. Everyone involved in this film is going places, so get in on the ground floor and make sure to check it out whenever it’s available to you.

Here are links to my reviews from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

And here’s my final set of reviews, from Day 5.

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