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Sundance Report: Three Darkly Funny Films

February 1, 2012  |  10:11pm

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Here are three films from Sundance 2012 that found humor in dark places.

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SMASHED
Kate wakes up one morning and realizes she might have an alcohol problem. Of course, there are a couple of hints: she awakens outdoors, on a couch behind a random industrial building, having tried crack on a whim the night before. She and her husband (Aaron Paul) have always lived a party lifestyle, but her drinking has slid dramatically from recreational to out-of-control. She isn’t at a_ Leaving Las Vegas_-level low yet, but she sees signs aplenty that it’s time to change her course. In his film Smashed, director James Ponsoldt (Off the Black) makes a tough subject palatable by injecting a healthy amount of humor. The excellent Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes her character so likable and self-aware that the comedy of her situations often rises to the surface. But the film also achieves real pathos as it depicts a marriage of two people on diverging paths, and the problems they both have coping with Kate’s change of lifestyle.

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I AM NOT A HIPSTER
Depicting a depressed asshole is no easy task — films that try often end up monotonous and frustrating. But I Am Not a Hipster achieves a warm, funny, poignant character study of an indie rocker who’s worshipped by scenesters and unknown to everyone else. Dominic Bogart leads the excellent cast as a man whose misery leads him to act completely aloof at some times, and to lash out at others. But the film’s key is that he’s also full of surprises — including a sweet, authentic relationship with his three visiting sisters. Writer/director Destin Cretton continually introduces new puzzle pieces to challenge first impressions and make an endlessly compelling journey through one man’s dark times.

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EXCISION
Excision is twisted, repugnant, absurd and disturbing — but always in the service of its main character. Writer/director Richard Bates Jr. has crafted a wicked, bloody little satire with a bit more to it than the average shock flick. AnnaLynne McCord, looking absolutely nothing like she does in her TV work, plays Pauline, an awkward teenager with acne, poor posture and a fetish for blood and surgery. She dreams bizarre dreams of dismemberment and decapitation, but for her, they’re erotic. She aspires to become a surgeon — she loves cutting things — yet remains gleefully disinterested in the scholastic achievement required for such a career. Instead, she goes to the library and reads books on surgery when she’s not plotting to time her virginity loss with her period or sparring with her overbearing mother — a bit overplayed by Traci Lords. Excision starts weird and gets weirder as it builds to a conclusion that is, in hindsight, inevitable, even if you want to believe it’s coming.

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