Originally my plan for today at the Sundance Film Festival was to see 4 films but by the time I got through film 3 I was tired and ready to go home. Even so, 9 movies in 3 days is nothing to sneeze at! So far I’d say the festival has been a success with the usual combination of studs and duds. Hopefully I will get lucky and this week’s evening shows will be all winners because today swung violently both ways!
The Witch Hunters
First up this morning was the last of the 3 Sundance Kids films for this year entitled The Witch Hunters. Directed by Rasko Milijkovic this sweet film would be a perfect way to introduce a young child to a foreign language film. At the screening they gave all non-readers in the audience headphones with an English interpreter telling them the dialogue and it seemed to go over great. What a terrific experience for kids to be exposed too!
Fortunately the film is also delightful. Most of the story relies on the charm and terrific acting of its two young protagonists Jovan (Mihajlo Milavic) and Milica (Silma Mahmuti). Jovan has cerebral palsy and struggles with the weaknesses of his body and his inability to be like everyone else (a scene where he tries to climb a staircase had me in tears!). Meanwhile Milica is struggling with the destruction of her parent’s marriage and her father’s new girlfriend who they deem to be a witch (she makes her own kombucha and does yoga LOL).
It is so nice to see a story where a girl and boy are just friends and there is no attempt at young love. The parents (even the new girlfriend) are also pleasant and trying their best to do a good job (this isn’t a Home Alone style of disastrous parenting). It’s a sweet story about how friendship and imagination can help us get through the tough times of life- especially as young children.
8 out of 10
It will be interesting to see how the public accepts Late Night. I worry it has the chance of being seriously overhyped. I came out loving it but then heard it had just set a record of $13 million purchase price by Amazon. Much like The Big Sick, I wonder if by the time normal audiences see it they will be frustrated it isn’t the greatest thing to ever exist? We will have to see I suppose.
Regardless, I can tell you what I thought about it. Written and starring Mindy Kaling, it tells the story of an Indian-American writer who gets her dream job working for the queen of late night television Katherine Newberry (Emma Thompson). As she works in this masculine environment we see both her sensibilities challenged and the Emma Thompson character trying to deal with her declining career.
Late Night, felt like a throwback to a type of movie we don’t get any more. Not since Nora Ephron died have I seen a movie that did such a good job in balancing comedy, story, witty banter and sneaky social commentary. Nora’s movies were always (even the bad ones) deceptively light and fluffy. Sure something like You’ve Got Mail may seem like a basic romcom but hidden inside are loads of little quips about New York, men and women, politics, movies, marriage and more. This is the dynamic Mindy Kaling was able to tap into when writing Late Night. It is funny. It is insightful and there might even be some romance (for both characters in a way).
The supporting cast is also great with John Lithgow and Amy Ryan as special standouts. Late Night is a real winner you should keep your eyes open for!
9 out of 10
The Sunlit Night
There’s always one movie at Sundance that its acceptance at the festival should give young aspiring filmmakers encouragement to enter their own films next year. Not because of its brilliance mind you, but because it is a complete disaster. Last year it was Ophelia but at least that was unintentionally funny. Instead, this year we get the hot mess that is The Sunlit Night.
Starring Jenny Slate (who’ve I’ve never been a fan of) The Sunlit Night is about an aspiring artist that takes an internship in Norway to work for a curmudgeonly old man who is painting a barn to look like the sun. It is also about Alex Sharp’s character who’s father dies and he ends up in Norway to grant his father’s last wish to be buried at the top of the world.
All of this could be fine but there were so many problems I almost don’t know where to begin. First of all, it is so tonally all over the place. Certain moments are very silly. For example, Zach Galifianakis playing a man from Cincinnati who lives in the Viking reenactment, or any scene with Gillian Anderson as Alex’s Russian Mother. These were so cringe-worthy. All of this was played for laughs but landed like a thud. And then the movie would try to go super sincere and then would be pretty dark. Then other moments it was like a fluffy romcom.
There was also no chemistry between Alex and Jenny. He seemed like a child where she was a fully-experienced woman. Plus, they are together for so little time that the relationship isn’t even given a chance.
The writing was also a mess. I’m told it is based on a book but it dragged (SO BORING!!!) and yet it somehow also had more story than it knew what to do with. For instance, there is a side plotline with Jenny’s sister’s wedding and her parents separating, which just makes her parents look like insufferable jerks. Nothing interesting is done with them so I was left wondering why I was forced to endure these terrible human beings for 2 hours?
It’s also technically a disaster. The editing is weird and there are multiple points where the ADR doesn’t match up with the mouths of the people talking. I was left truly baffled that anyone with a job thought this was fit to air. What on earth?
Norway looks nice. I’ll give it that but everything else gets a giant UGHHHHH!
1 out of 10