Sundance 2009: Film Round-Up
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Nick Hornby wrote the script for An Education, so you’d expect the dialogue to be superb, and it is. (Although, it’s a strange choice to adapt someone else’s book instead of one of his own; he’d “rather mess up other people’s stories.”) And newcomer Carey Mulligan is spectacular in the leading role, so good that if I had seen the film earlier I would have made a point to see The Greatest, another Sundance selection starring Mulligan. In this one, though, she plays a schoolgirl who begins to spend time with an older man (Peter Skarsgard) who may or may not be all that he seems. It’s a nice touch that he wants to introduce her to all the music, literature and food that everyone in the audience likely thinks she should, in fact, be introduced to, and if society doesn’t approve, then so much the better. So when the inevitable reversal happens, it hits hard. Yet the film remains strangely unsatisfying, as if it doesn’t know quite what it wants to say, much like The Informers (see below). Perhaps the author of the original memoir is still trying to decide that herself.
A hot mess of a film. Once I tell you it’s based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, you probably have a lot of strengths and weaknesses running through your mind, and they all end up being true. The film does a great job of capturing a mood that I suspect really did exist among the young/idle/rich in the '80s, a mood of languid decadence, casual sex and creeping alienation. And hair gel. And cocaine. Lots of cocaine. The script has some really clever moments. The actors are mostly adequate, with Mickey Rourke turning in yet another pitch-perfect performance and Kim Basinger once again doing well the quietly desperate, aging beauty. But at its core the film has nothing, is about nothing, says nothing. And if even if nothingness is the point, that’s not enough.
The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle
On the other hand, this film is a pure unalloyed delight. The brainchild of writer/director David Russo, it’s the story of a data entry “professional” (Marshall Allman, of Prison Break fame) who loses his job and takes the only job he can-as a janitor in an office building. He and his fellow janitors end up eating experimental cookies left out by a marketing executive in the building (Natasha Lyonne) that get them, wait for it, pregnant. Yes, that kind of pregnant. Kind of. You’ll have to see the film for yourself to find out exactly what I mean. But in Russo’s hands, what could be either an acid-vision experimental arthouse film or a zany pseudo-subversive gender farce transcends both and becomes a truly remarkable film. It’s a moving exploration of gender, commitment, purpose, hope, and perhaps most of all, religion. When two characters of questionable (if any) religious belief share a prayer over a kitchen sink, it’s simultaneously the emotional heart of the film and a moment so earned that no one from atheist to believer could begrudge it. Allman is fantastic, as are Lost’s Tania Raymonde and especially Vince Vieluf. The musical selections are eclectic and inspired, and the direction is dazzling without being overly intrusive. Little Dizzle is a triumph, and exactly the kind of film Sundance was created to discover and promote. May it find distribution soon.
Five Minutes of Heaven
Based on actual events, Five Minutes of Heaven opens decades in the past, as a young rising leader of a loyalist group in Northern Ireland assassinates a Catholic fighter at home, right in front of the victim’s younger brother. Flash forward to the present, and the assassin (the always fantastic Liam Neeson) is somewhat of a celebrity, having spent his post-prison life teaching high-profile seminars on guilt and reconciliation around the world. He’s also got a TV show, and the now-grown younger brother has agreed to appear as a guest on the show, meeting him for the first time since that fateful night. As might be expected from that setup, the film plays heavily in themes of retribution and reconciliation, and clearly the two main characters are meant in some degree to be stand-ins for the two sides of the conflict that has caused so much pain and suffering in Ireland. It’s a tribute to the film that the playing out of those themes never seems mawkish or contrived. It’s not a film for everyone, but if you don’t mind your characters with a heavy dose of (unheard) internal dialogue and spiritual searching, it’s a powerful one.