Sundance Film Festival 2018: Day 1 capsules | Buzz Blog

Sundance Film Festival 2018: Day 1 capsules

The films and buzz leaving a mark on Sundance.

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Private Life [Premieres] **1/2
It feels as though writer/director Tamara Jenkins is trying to craft a bittersweet paean to that moment in life when you realize you don't have as many options, while simultaneously trying to keep too many options open for this movie. The central narrative involves Richard and Rachel Grimes (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn), a 40-something Manhattan couple in the middle of a desperate scramble to finally have a baby, whether that means fertility treatments or adoption. Then they offer to house Sadie (Kayli Carter)—the 25-year-old, trying-to-be-an-adult stepdaughter of Richard's brother (John Carroll Lynch)—while also realizing they might have found in her a potential egg donor. The cast is uniformly terrific, and while Jenkins' zesty dialogue at times leans too hard into the characters' artsy bona fides—references to Sam Shepard plays, Serpico and the like abound—she never allows the premise to wallow in its potential bathos. But there's also a truncated subplot involving Sadie's mother (Molly Shannon) facing an impending empty nest, and a frustratingly incomplete attempt to connect the Grimes' story to their respective level of success reaching their youthful dreams of being creative artists. And it doesn't take long to latch on to the subtext that the Grimes are really fulfilling their parenting dreams with Sadie after all. The humor and compassion in Jenkins' writing get at something honest about marriages of a certain age; it's just hard to shake the notion that this script is going through a mid-draft crisis. (Scott Renshaw)

READ our 2018 Sundance Film Festival special issue here

Our New President
[World Documentary] ***
You might not believe the current administration sought help from Russia in manipulating the 2016 presidential election, but Maxim Pozdorovkin’s documentary certainly makes it clear that Russia thinks it provided that help. Pozdorovkin goes both on screen and behind the scenes to explore the way Russia’s state-controlled media pushed an anti-Hillary/pro-Trump agenda, both to its own citizens and on outlets that had influence around the globe, repeating Clinton conspiracy theories and even selling Trump’s victory as the rags-to-riches story of “a troubled teenager from Brooklyn.” It’s the kind of stuff that would be hilarious if it weren’t so infuriating, offering insight into the Fox News model when Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Russia’s news agency, tells his newsroom in blunt terms that “objectivity is a myth.” The scenes of actual Russian news broadcasts are so mesmerizing in their bald-faced agenda-peddling that it’s frustrating how much time Our New President spends on videos made by everyday Russian citizens celebrating Trump. Once you get the point that this propaganda has worked—and we’re all living in the world that won’t let us forget it—you don’t need three or four separate YouTube creations by folks sharing their personal ballads to The Donald. (SR)

306 Hollywood [NEXT] **1/2
A film can be a labor of love, obviously made from love and about a lovable person ... and yet you don’t love it. The title indicates the Newark address of the grandmother of sibling film-makers Elan and Jonathan Bogarín. She died in 2011, and the pair treat her home like an archaeological dig (their mother laughs at them, and frankly I did too). But archaeologists reconstruct history from artifacts like fashion or homes where “history” is slim or non-existent. This is not the case in 2017 generally, or for this family in particular, where Elan had been interviewing Grandma for years, she was a pack rat for records and the family members had recorded themselves for decades. Grandma is an engaging person and camera presence, even when trying on a dress she’s clearly outgrown. And she nails the last scene. But the experience is like watching someone chew with his mouth open. All the themes and “Big Cosmic Questions” are self-consciously laid out by the narrating kids, often accompanied by surreal or expressionistic scenes—some of which work, but which give off a mannered air. There are scenes in which actors enact and mime recordings of family scenes, which merely reminded me of a better film that committed to that premise (The Arbor). Here, it’s just one more idea for the Bogaríns to careen to and fro. (Victor Morton)

Generation Wealth [Documentary Premieres] **
The 1982 hit “I've Never Been to Me” by Charlene is aggravating in its “I've lived the sweet life, but you know what truth is? It's that little baby you're holding” sermonizing. But at least it only lasts 4 minutes. Generation Wealth is 26 times that length. In 2012, director Lauren Greenfield made the surprisingly affecting Queen of Versailles, about a super-rich Florida family falling on “hard” times, which also implicated others in the American pursuit of easy wealth. There, she had focus. Here, she just throws against the wall anything and everything having to do with wealth—Botox and plastic surgery, child beauty pageants, addictive personalities, strippers and porn stars, children of privilege decades later looking back, commodities trading, instant gratification, media consumption, babies and What It All Says About America And Capitalism. Then she makes things worse by getting personal, into her relationships with her parents and children, and her careerism. It's all too much—a rambling jeremiad of the sort that often forgets what it said 5 minutes ago, and causes me to argue back with the screen. First example to come to mind: After all the “this is America” sermonizing, a talking head attributes Russian and Chinese tycoons to reaction against their revolutionary history. Falsifiability fail. (VM)


Our Scott Renshaw is in Park City, giving you the lowdown on Sundance 2018. Check back to this space for daily festival dispatches.



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