One of the things that I loved about Sundance, and that really makes it unique, is that there are so many films across so many genres and styles that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from screening to screening. Of course, you read the synopsis or ask some of the other festival attendees if they’ve seen this or that, but there’s still that sense of wonder that comes from experiencing a film for the first time. Sometimes there is shock, sometimes there’s a surprise, and sometimes there is Sorry To Bother You.
After a two days of some strong film viewing, I wondered if I would begin to run out of luck, but that feeling ended abruptly as I watched Boots Riley’s hilarious politically driven satire Sorry To Bother You, starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer. Parts Black Dynamite and parts Idiocracy, Riley’s directorial debut leaves a lasting impression. Set in a modern looking Oakland, we meet Cash as a jobless down on his luck resident of his uncle’s garage, having just landed a job as a telemarketer. His bosses are always alluding to the elite performers that move to the “upstairs” jobs as motivation for their workers, and after heeding some advice, Cash (Stanfield) finds the “voice” inside him that becomes his ticket to the top. Along the way, the film tackles everything from labor disputes, consumerism, race, and just about anything else you could imagine – in fact, that is the only real problem I had with the film is that so many issues being addressed, it almost felt overwhelming. Riley’s vision is strong and powerful, but at times too ambitious, and my feeling is the film may go through some edits on its way to mass distribution. But that complaint aside, Sorry To Bother You was some of the most fun I had – and just wait until you see how crazy shit gets in the third act!
I left the Holiday with nothing but a smile as I made the snowy walk back to the Eccles theatre for what would be the only world premiere that I would see at Sundance. I Think We’re Alone Now, starring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning, takes us to post apocalyptic upstate New York where we meet Del (Dinklage), the last librarian on Earth. As the sole survivor of this world, Del acts as caretaker for his town by removing the dead and keeping it clean. The bulk of the first act has little to no dialogue, and with crisp autumn colors and many harvest sunsets, a very dark tone is set as we’re introduced to Del’s very structured, organized, and routine daily activities – until one day he finds a car that doesn’t belong in his town. It’s here he meets Grace (Fanning) and we see Del begin to struggle with the realization that he is not alone in the world. Dinklage and Fanning have real chemistry on screen as their characters learn to coexist with one another, but unfortunately the twist in the third act – because you knew there was going to be one – falls a little flat in that the elements surrounding it probably should have been darker. Otherwise, I Think We’re Alone Now beautifully captured the emptiness and isolation that one must experience at end of the world, and was easily one of my favorite experiences of the festival.
Unfortunately, we were unable to stay for the post-screening Q&A because I only had minutes to spare to make my way back to the Holiday Theater for The Tale. The good news is that I successfully made it – the bad news is the only remaining seat was in the front right corner, which meant I would spend the next couple of hours looking almost straight up at the screen. Nevertheless, I powered through writer/director Jennifer Fox’s emotional story about her very personal experience, and one that generated quite the buss after its premiere. Laura Dern stars as Jennifer, a forty-something journalist who begins to put together pieces of her past that she doesn’t entirely recall. Her journey to discovering the truth about her sexual abuse as a minor is unapologetic, uncompromising, and uncomfortable, and viewers are taken along on this horrific experience as Jennifer starts to put her memories in order. Given the current climate as it relates to sexual abuse, this film resonate with a large number of audience members and will like have some lasting effects.
As the credits rolled, I realized that my three-day, eleven-film adventure had come to an end. Each festival or convention that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend has offered its own unique atmosphere, and Sundance was no exception, carrying an electricity and excitement all its own. Speaking with various attendees, it became abundantly clear that not every film at Sundance turns out to be enjoyable, and I guess that makes my experience rare since there were things like I liked about everything I was able to see. That’s one of the reasons I struggle to rank them, but after much deliberation I was able to come up with a Top Five listing.
5. Sorry To Bother You
4. Hearts Beat Loud
3. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
1. I Think We’re Alone Now
Whether I’m able to return to Sundance in the future remains to be seen, but after such a great first experience, I’m certainly looking forward to another snow-covered film adventure in Park City.