CJ’s Virtual Visit to the Sundance Film Festival: 2023

This festival featured cultures, communities, and captivating performances.

Two years in a row I’ve been to the Sundance Film Festival online, and I was able to grab a few tickets to warm myself up for the upcoming year. I’ll go there in person soon enough, but for now I’ve got some movies to talk about.

You can expect full reviews of them with the star ratings before they come to theaters or streaming services, but for now, these are just summaries of what to expect.

“A Thousand and One” (Opens March 31)

Teyana Taylor (“Coming 2 America”) stars as a young woman named Inez released from prison and kidnapping her son from foster care to give herself a second chance at being a mother. The story chronicles between the 90s and 2000s, as boy named Terry becomes a teenager, who has the chance to get the education his mother never had.

Writer/director A.V. Rockwell makes her directorial debut with valuable aspects on how kids can do better than their parents, who come from low circumstances. The young mother in “The Florida Project” is a bad influence on her kid, but Inez wants to be the good influence on her son.

The last 20 minutes are gripping as we unfold the consequences of stealing a foster kid, and it tests our senses. This movie has the right mind to be released by Focus Features, and if you see it, you will not forget it.

“Bad Behaviour” (Release Date TBA)

Alice Englert acts in her directorial debut, and guides Jennifer Connolly as her mother. Englert is a stuntwoman, who gets injured on the job, while Connolly is a former child star, who injures someone during a peace retreat. And Ben Whishaw is the guru in charge of the event. He’s not too committed to the job, after all, he can smoke by the garage can.

Now, the performances are fine and the direction allows Englert to push her movie career further. But the problem with the script is that it’s too negative and cynical to confront the issues presented here. The retreat ends at the one hour mark, and then it becomes a tedious mother-daughter story, which becomes the source of both their problems. It’s mixed bag for me, but the young actress has potential.

“Shortcomings” (Release Date TBA)

Randall Park makes his directorial debut with honesty and humor as he introduces us to a character who can’t keep a good relationship or excel in his dreams. Justin H. Min (who was great last year in “After Yang) plays Ben, who runs an art house theater, has a more successful girlfriend (Ally Maki), and they’re both like opposite magnets.

The supporting work also features Sherry Cola as Ben’s lesbian friend, who has the wisecracks; Tavi Gevinson as a younger employee he has a short fling for; Debby Ryan as another lesbian, whom he also likes; Jacob Batalon as another coworker, who is no help with a problem Ben later has; and Timothy Simons, who provides a comic twist to one of his would-be love stories. Even Park pops in for a cameo role, along with Stephanie Hsu and Ronny Chieng.

This is a funny and goodhearted comedy that works with some echos from “Clerks” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” and never discriminates against any Asian culture. I hope it finds the right studio to sell this project.

“The Starling Girl” (Release Date TBA)

Writer/director Laurel Parmet makes her directorial debut of a coming-of-age story with religious themes. Eliza Scanlen plays a teenager named Jim Starling, who lives in a religious community, and feels obligated to serve the Lord. She wants to dance, but feels it’s sinful to her. She falls in love with youth pastor Owen (Lewis Pullman), which also feels sinful, considering their age difference and the fact that he is in an unhappy marriage.

Her mom (Wrenn Schmidt) is a bitch, her father (Jimmi Simpson) is a former musician, and she is set to marry Owen’s brother Ben (Austin Abrams). And when word gets out about the affair, things spin out of control.

It’s all well-acted in the notion of youth in these circumstances, and how the results are affected. Scanlen and Pullman both give great performances, even if certain elements get overwhelming at times. It shows us how religious people can show their perspectives on what is pure and what is sinful.

“Fair Play” (Release Date TBA)

We meet two analysts at a cutthroat hedge fund in NYC, who are also secretly madly in love with each other. Employees dating is not usually a good sign, especially sin such a high stakes company. But anyway. Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) pops the question to Emily (Phoebe Dynevor), and she says “Yes.” But as she’s promoted to PM, their relationship gets destroyed. He’s the weakest employee there, while she earns her status, and it all explodes with one fell swoop.

Do I understand a word these hedge fund employees say? No, I do not. I’m not even sure I described them right. But what I do understand is the consequences of employee relationships, and the performances from both Dynevor and Ehrenreich are profoundly excellent. Writer/director Chloe Domont draws these characters in such unexpected circumstances, that Netflix has to good sense to buy this movie.

“Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Release Date TBA)

This documentary on Little Richard shows us his life and times-good, bad, and inspiring. He dressed in drag as Princess LaVonne, dealt with his queerness, found religion, and sang his heart with as much movements as he could possibly give. Despite his challenges of being gay and black in certain time periods, he became a rock icon-the “Architect of Rock and Roll” as they would describe him.

We get insightful interviews from the likes of Tom Jones, John Waters (who grew the mustache in his honor), and Paul McCartney, among others, and we get vital information about the singer’s highs and lows. Losing him in 2020 has broken the hearts of millions, but his music and spirit will live on. This doc wants to help keep his spirit alive.

These are the movies I saw at the Sundance Film Festival. I may not have seen as much as the late Roger Ebert or Patrick Beatty would, but I still do my best to give you guys the scoop on what’s good and what’s bad. Hopefully, I’ll get to go to the real show in Park City, Utah, but in the meantime, I’m glad to get a little taste of what to expect down there.

Categories: Film Festival

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