Old college friends gather at a seaside home to celebrate the upcoming wedding of Lila (Anna Paquin) and Tom (Josh Duhamel). Laura (Katie Holmes), their maid of honor, used to be Tom's girl and it's immediately clear that that relationship hasn't fully run its course. The other friends (Malin Akerman, Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, Rebecca Lawrence and Jeremy Strong) know this. Lila even knows it in a way. What follows is a curiously artificial dramedy, with a few diverting moments and a central question that is provocative (do you marry the person you want deeply or the person who you obviously need). I couldn't connect with this movie from the beginning and knew I was in trouble when I started enjoying Malin Akerman more than the other actors. Maybe Rachel Getting Married spoiled me forever but after that film's gloriously complicated conflicting real time wedding awkwardness everything else involving toasts, rehearsal dinners and wedding jitters, excitement just feels pedestrian and canned.
The biggest problem here might be the casting. At first it didn't bother me as these are all adequate to good actors, but I realized midway through that I didn't buy for a second that they had all known each other for years. They're all TV pretty without the movie star soulfulness required to hurtle this type of material or make it sing. When I began to write this I had completely forgotten that Adam Brody was even in the movie. The characters make reference to their past incestuous dating history -- that's where they get their name "The Romantics" -- but none of the performance outside of maybe Lila/Laura/Tom convey anything like past romantic history. The performances convey general horniness for other hotties instead. Where is the backstory textural performance stuff? Worse yet, moody evasive Laura and nearly mute Tom supposedly have a fiery deep sexual connection that we're meant to believe springs from their love of poetry, English lit and deep philosophical conversations. I don't know about you but when I think about Katie Holmes and Josh Duhamel, intellectual all-nighters and poetry recitation aren't the first or even the two-hundred and thirty-first thing that spring to mind. D+
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) have been married for years. The marriage isn't what it used to be. This beautifully rendered film, twelve years in the making, is co-written and directed by one-to-watch Derek Cianfrance. The lived-in feeling of the acting reminded me of Mike Leigh so it didn't surprise me to hear that Williams and Gosling had both been involved with the project for years, and helped shape their characters in substantial ways. We follow Cindy and Dean through two parallel linear chronologies charting both the birth of their relationship and the death of it. In the best moments, this plays less like a conceptual gimmick and more like a revelation, allowing you to see how the past and future are always connected. This reminded me of the brilliant stage musical The Last Five Years. Since I love both Years and Mike Leigh a great deal, trust that these comparison points are enormous compliments.
Michelle Williams proves again why she's one of the best young actresses working and Ryan Gosling is straight up fantastic nailing often daringly conflicted character details: he understands Dean's confidence and inferiority complex as well as both his volatility and gentleness. He's as specific here as he was in Half Nelson but the characterizations don't feel at all alike.
<-- Gosling, Williams and their screen daughter Faith Wladyka at the premiere in Park City
Two hander dramas only sizzle if the actors are in synch and the chemistry is strong here. As an added bonus both young stars are entirely believable in parenting scenes with their screen daughter and that isn't always the case [*cough* Brothers]. Blue Valentine isn't perfect, the ending feels only halfway worked-through and I understand Katey's quibble about the confusing geography (where are we exactly in both past and present?). It's often depressing and I know the movie won't play for everyone. But though it might be a minor achievement, it's definitely an achievement. A must see for fans of either actor and of romantic dramas in general.
This is the writing and directing debut for Josh Radnor, better known as "Ted Mosby" on How I Met Your Mother. This is a touch like watching a mumblecore film performed by the cast of Friends. I don't mean to sound mean or glib, since it's a harmless and even optimistic movie. But there's a lot about it, from Malin Akerman's alopecia -- I don't understand how Malin Akerman is an indie actress now? Help me! -- to a huge plot thread involving a little foster care black boy, that plays in an artificial overscripted way rather than lived-in and felt. In short, it's a situation dramedy, that might work better as a TV show.
Best in show: Pablo Schreiber, brother of Liev, who has done a lot of television but who I was unfamiliar with. He plays a late twentysomething man who really loves his commitment-phobe girlfriend (Zoe Kazan) but is aching to take a next step of one sort or another in his life. He provides one of the most endearing, openly emotional reactions to a pregnancy announcement, I've ever seen captured on film.
happythankyoumoreplease was the last film I saw and when it ended I knew I had had enough so perhaps I was just grumpy (no movies for a week!). But I do think it provided welcome takeaway positivity. Whenever you're feeling grateful to the universe, say "thank you" and chase it with "more please." C
If I were passing out prizes
Best Pictures: The Kids Are All Right, I Am Love, Blue Valentine and Please Give
I'm not really sure how much I loved these four movies. I like to let things settle but I'd love to see each of them again as soon as possible. The festival climate sometimes messes with your reactions to movies.
Documentary: Last Train Home (runner up: Catfish)
Screenplay: The Kids Are All Right (runner up: Cyrus or Please Give)
Art Direction: The Runaways (runner up: Nowhere Boy)
Costume Design: The Runaways (runner up: Nowhere Boy)
Best Cinematography: I Am Love (runner up: The Runaways)
Best Editing: I Am Love (runner up: Blue Valentine)
Best Use of Music/Score: Blue Valentine (runner up: I Am Love)
Actress: Annette Bening for Mother & Child and The Kids Are All Right (runner up: Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine)
Actor: Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine (runner up: James Rollston, Boy)
Supporting Actress: (tie) Kristin Scott Thomas & Anne-Marie Duff in Nowhere Boy (runner up: Rebecca Hall, Please Give)
Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right (runner up: Jonah Hill, Cyrus)
Ensemble: The Kids Are All Right (runner up: Please Give)
Some people's favorite movie moments tend to be centered around action. I am more turned on by musical numbers so I have to shout those out... along with a couple other categories.
Best One Liners: Please Give (runner up: Cyrus)
Best Sex Scene: Tilda Swinton and Edoardo Gabbriellini in I Am Love (runner up: Gosling and Williams in Blue Valentine)
Best Use of Nudity: Body art in Vegetarian
Best Gimmick: Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for the entirety of Buried
Seven Best Musical Moments: "You Always Hurt the Ones You Love" (I think that's the song?) performed by Ryan Gosling (with an assist from Michelle Williams) in Blue Valentine ; "Thriller" performed by the cast of Boy; "Blue" performed by The Bening in The Kids Are All Right; "Cherry Bomb" performed by Dakota Fanning and cast in The Runaways; "Aborigine" performed by Rocky McKenzie and cast in Bran Nue Dae; "Don't You Want Me" performed by John C Reilly (with an assist from Marisa Tomei) in Cyrus. Dancing at the Late Night Lodge performed by Nathaniel and Parker Posey. Sorry, I'll shut up about that now. But can you blame me for obsessing?
SUNDANCE IS OVER. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. i.e. Oscar nomination hoopla and this site's own Film Bitch awards.