13 Movies We Saw at Sundance: The Good, the Great, and the Head-Scratchers
Dozens of indies made their debuts at the Sundance Film Festival this week, and Team InStyle hit the ground in Park City, Utah to screen as many as possible in an 80-hour time period. We ended up seeing 13 movies total at theaters, Uber-ing and shuttling all over town to bring you the first scoop. We gotta say, for a fest known for its quirky indies, this year spit out a bunch of potential hits. But there were misses, too. Scroll down to hear our unfiltered thoughts on the good, the great, and, yes, those pesky head-scratchers.
Most Crush-Worthy Good Guy
The Fundamentals of Caring
Paul Rudd is always on our love list: He’s funny, adorable, and can play an unlikely hero (Ant-Man), a doting dad or a best friend (I Love You, Man). In The Fundamentals of Caring, he’s all of the above. Rudd plays a soon-to-be-divorcé who becomes a caretaker to a teenage boy with muscular dystrophy (Craig Roberts). The two set out on a cross-country road trip and pick up a couple of adventurers along the way—namely, Selena Gomez, a runaway heading to Denver to start a new life. Rudd and Roberts are perfect foils and impart the film with heartwarming humor, even in the most painful, honest moments. Gomez is brash but lovable and helps smooth things over when the men veer off course. It’s a feel-good flick with real wit and charm—outweighing any cheese.
Most Likely to Inspire You to Dance in a Theater
This melodic movie was a personal favorite for Team InStyle. The newest project from John Carney, the man behind fellow musically-minded films Once and Begin Again, is set in 1980s Dublin, and stars a cast of outsiders who join together to form a band for no other reason than to get popular and get girls. The young stars were mostly cast from open auditions, and their greenness actually makes you fall for them more, especially the leader, Cosmo, played perfectly by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo—he’s a star in the making, he just signed with huge Hollywood agency WME—and the musical prodigy Eamon (played by Mark McKenna). Lucy Boynton plays Raphina, the over made-up girl all the boys crush on, and she does it so convincingly, you see why Cosmo will risk everything and do anything to please her. “This movie is all about finding your voice and finding yourself,” said Walsh-Peelo. “I think a lot of people can relate to that.” Indeed, it’s true. But more than anything, the original songs will make you clap, wiggle, and cheer in your seat, especially “Drive It Like You Stole It,” “To Find You,” and “Up.”
Most Likely to Send You Into a Fit of LOLs
This bro-centric film focuses on the eponymous Joshy (Silcon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch) and his would-be bachelor party (you find out why it’s “would-be” in the first scene). Co-starring some of the funniest men in comedy right now—Adam Pally, Nick Kroll, Alex Ross Perry, and Brett Gelman—their antics over this three-day weekend in Ojai, California are hysterical to say the least. We were especially fond of Kroll’s Eric character, whose valiant efforts to turn every frown upside down included hot tub hopping, cruising at dive bars, and several unfortunate stripper encounters, as well as Perry’s Adam, the socially-awkward, board-game-loving comrade. Jenny Slate supports as Jodi, in town to celebrate her 30th and looking for love (or at least a hookup) with the completely wrong person in a completely relatable, comical way. And every other funny person on TV wanted to get involved with the project—lookout for cameos from Lisa Edelstein, Jake Johnson, Aubrey Plaza, Lauren Graham, Alison Brie, and Paul Reiser—and prepare to leave with a smile and an incentive to plan a weekend trip of your own with your besties.
Most Likely to Hit the Oscar Campaign Trail
Rebecca Hall is brilliant as a 1974 news anchor in Sarasota, Florida battling a ratings-driven, male-dominated, sensationalized TV industry as well as her own depression. Based on a true story, the film slowly reveals Christine’s character through the events leading up to her shocking on-air suicide. “It's an empathetic film about understanding someone who is very difficult to understand and relate to,” Hall told us after the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Already getting early buzz as an awards contender, Hall inhabits the role of Christine Chubbuck with precision, though she had very little to draw upon when researching the character since much of the original footage is missing. “Most of it was instinct and imagination from what I read about her and some pictures,” Hall said. The weight of the film, and Hall’s remarkable performance, make it an absolute must-see and arguably one of the best pieces of work to come out of the 2016 festival.
Hottest On-Screen Couple
One of the early films at Sundance to land a distribution deal (with Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment), Indignation is a gorgeous debut from director James Schmus, and its leading couple, Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon are magnetic. Lerman plays Marcus, a Jewish kid from New Jersey who heads to a conservative Christian college in Ohio in 1951, escaping being drafted into the Korean War. Almost immediately, he falls for his troubled but beautiful classmate, Olivia (Gadon), a complicated girl from a well to-do family. Their romance is short-lived but spurs a series of unfortunate events and, as the title implies, the handsome young duo face the often unfair social and institutional systems of the times. Lerman and Gadon are perfectly paired, the script is smart and tightly written, and the backdrop is both haunting and romantic. It’s the type of film that’s sure to propel Lerman and Gadon’s careers to top-billing status. Gadon already has a prominent part in Hulu’s soon to premiere series 11.22.63 alongside James Franco. And we can always have more of Logan Lerman in our lives.
Most Likely to Launch a Star
Visceral and often hard to watch, director and writer Elizabeth Wood takes viewers on a drug- and sex-fueled ride through one reckless young girl’s New York summer. Breakout star Morgan Saylor (Homeland) is a privileged white college student who rents an apartment in Queens with her best friend (India Menuez) after freshman year. She quickly becomes entangled with a drug dealer on her block, Blue (Brian Marc) and spirals out of control. Loosely based on Wood’s own life, it’s a raw, poignant and painful commentary on gender, race, and class in our country. Think a modern day version of Kids (1995). Of her graphic scenes with co-stars including Justin Bartha (warning: you’ll see more of the actor than ever before, if you know what we mean) and Chris Noth, Saylor said, “I told myself from the beginning, ‘If you’re going to do this, you have to commit, and you have to agree with yourself that this is okay and that you’re going to go as far as the character would go in that situation.” Saylor not only commits, she presents an honest portrayal of a girl that’s all at once naïve, vulnerable and careless—and sure to stun audiences.
Most Likely to Prove the Pitfalls of a Micromanager
Indie darling Greta Gerwig stars as the titular Maggie in this film, an independent 30-something college administrator who decides she’s not going to let being single get in the way of her having a baby. She solicits college friend-turned-pickle entrepreneur to donate his sperm, and as she’s about to make the “deposit,” she realizes she has fallen for her married colleague, John (Ethan Hawke), and they eventually end up together. However, when Maggie realizes John’s really a better fit for his icy ex, Georgette (Julianne Moore), she makes an attempt to puppeteer their reunion. “Maggie’s really management oriented, both in her work and in marriage,” Gerwig told us. “She’s the kind of person who is always trying to help other people shepherd their ideas into being.” But this movie proves you can try as hard as you want to control destiny, but ultimately, destiny will chart its own course.
Best Forbidden Love Story
Sophie and the Rising Sun
Set in a small Southern town in 1941, Sophie (Julianne Nicholson) faces bigotry and racial tension head on when she falls for a handsome Japanese man with a mysterious past. Already on the social fringe, Sophie’s relationship ignites hate crimes and reveals who her true friends really are. Based on a novel by Augusta Trobaugh, the movie also emphasizes the importance of strong female characters and friendships, a theme we saw repeatedly during this year’s festival. “I like doing films about women,” said co-star Lorraine Toussaint, best known for her roles on Orange is the New Black and Rosewood. “This film was about different love stories with women and especially women over 40. There seems to be a new awareness sort of opening up for grown-up girls like myself where we get to be really more interesting.”
Most Likely to Inspire You to Hug Your Mom
Written and directed by Saturday Night Live scribe Chris Kelly, this heartbreaking and hilarious drama is a fictionalized version about what happened to Kelly himself when he dealt with his mother’s fatal sickness. The film follows what occurs when Kelly’s on-screen counterpart, Jesse Plemons as David, comes home to Sacramento from New York City to care for his cancer-stricken mother, Joanne, played by the talented Molly Shannon. The film was one of the most family-oriented at the festival and represented the idea that even when faced with end of life, moments of happiness that can still shine through. Keep a look out for 14-year-old rising star J.J. Totah, who has two scenes in the film as the younger brother of David’s best friend. He absolutely steals the show.
Best Corsets and Costumes
Love & Friendship
Director Whit Stillman’s adaptation of the snarky Jane Austen novella Lady Susan stars Kate Beckinsale as the Lady herself, a devious, witty widow who manipulates every situation she’s in and every man in her path to get what she wants. Chloë Sevigny co-stars as the Lady’s BFF, and she’s an equally cunning and intelligent bestie at that. (Side note: This is their first film together since 1998’s The Last Days of Disco, also directed by Stillman.) It’s a bold representation of 18th-century female empowerment, and it had us rooting for both these women the entire time. But even more fun to watch than the power these two wielded over men were the costumes, many of which were made specifically for the film—think corsets, large gowns, and more. “It has always been a dream of mine to do a sweeping period romance, so for me, it was such a thrill,” said Sevigny. “ It was also a difficult process. I had two dressers every morning dressing me, yanking me into every button and snap. But I loved it. I can’t wait to get into a corset again.”
Scariest Guy-on-Guy Violence
The film, based on Brad Land’s memoir of the same name, tells the story two brothers: Brad (played by rising star Ben Schnetzer) and his older brother Brett (Nick Jonas). It starts with high school graduate Brad being brutally assaulted by two townies after leaving Brett’s frat house, which leaves Brad broken and self-loathing. Several months later, Brad pledges his older brother’s frat thinking he’ll find strength in brotherhood. Instead, Brad discovers the pitfalls of the wolf pack mentality, which is shown through some of the cruelest hazing scenes you will ever see on screen. “This movie proves how truly hard it is to walk away from an abusive situation,” said Schnetzer. Later, it’s Brett who realizes the brutality must end. “I’m hopeful that the conversation continues to evolve and any of my fans that go to see it leave asking a lot of questions and a different world view.” Indeed, many of his fans were at the screenings, though we’re not quite sure they knew what they were in for. There is no sexiness in this. It’s violent, intense hazing, and even with its two strapping leading men, it’s purposefully not pretty.
Southside with You
This sweet film about the start of future president Barack Obama and future First Lady Michelle Robinson’s relationship chronicles a single day in 1989 when the couple went on their first date. Then a summer associate at a law firm in Chicago, Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter), his advisor at the firm, visit an art exhibit, attend a community organizing meeting, eat lunch in a park, kiss outside an ice cream parlor, and see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. It’s a fictionalized account but director Richard Tanne culled information from interviews and articles to piece together the Obama’s initial flirtation. An amazing soundtrack doesn’t hurt either: Janet Jackson’s Miss You Much plays during opening credits and it only gets better from there. (John Legend is an executive producer so we’d expect nothing less!)
Swiss Army Man
The most talked about film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is also the most bizarre. In Swiss Army Man Daniel Radcliffe plays the role of Manny, a bloated, farting corpse that washes ashore a deserted island. Paul Dano plays Hank, stranded on the island and about to commit suicide when his new friend appears. The two embark on an epic adventure fueled by Manny’s gas (Hank rides Manny like a jet ski across the ocean), and Hank’s vivid imagination. The film takes twisted turns and, frankly, leaves viewers unsure whether to laugh, applaud or simply walk out (many audience members did in fact leave during the Sundance premiere). Radcliffe and Dano have a true bromance, and their performances are strong, but this strange story may just be too much for even the most dedicated Harry Potter fans to handle.