Moviehole at Sundance – Part 3


“Birds of America”, “August” and “Smart People” Reviewed

By Paul Fischer in Park City.

Sundance is in full swing and the variety is prevalent, beginning with the somewhat fragmented but stylish ”August”, directed by August Chick. Pic centers on two brothers fighting to keep their start-up company afloat on Wall Street during August 2001, a month before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Josh Hartnett is the only real reason to see the film, which does explore the notion of arrogance with assured clarity, but its flaws are substantive. Plot-heavy and often incoherent, the film needs some serious editing and re-shoots in order to give the film a stronger sense of purpose. The start up company, which involves dealing with new web sites, is all about embracing new technology yet how it achieves is remains unclear. Howard Rodman�s script contains very little in the way of multi dimensional character development and underplays the central relationship of the two brothers to such an extent, that one rarely gets a glimpse into that relationship. The film is somewhat over-directed and its heavy use of MTV-style editing detracts from a sense of narrative cohesion. The film�s only major strength is the performance of Hartnett who has become increasingly compelling as an actor of late and plays Tom with superb confidence. But the character is so consistently unsympathetic that by the end of the film one is grateful for what ultimately and predictably becomes of him. Chich has talent and the film has gorgeous visual style but it lacks a script that involves the viewer.

Derek is a hauntingly eloquent film that chronicles the life of gay artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman. Superbly crafted by Jarman collaborator Isaac Julien, and written by the luminous Tilda Swinton, Derek is both a personal reflection of Jarman�s unique artistry, but a glorious celebration of the times in which he lived through Jarman�s own words. Julien cleverly integrates one of the iconoclastic director�s final interviews with archival footage and footage from his work, to create a portrait of a tormented artist striving to fulfill his individuality with the changes in London that took place throughout the eighties. All of this is coupled by Swinton�s own personal recollections as she walks around contemporary London only too aware of what has changed in today�s film industry. Those who remember the ferocious originality of Jarman will love this film but it is far more than a single-minded portrait, but a beautiful, fascinating and provocative study of art, sexuality and a society and industry long forgotten.

Noam Murro�s ”Smart People” is one of those exquisite films that creeps on you unexpectedly and stays with you for hours after. Part romantic comedy, part character study, this is a film worth cheering about, and one of the first crowd pleasers that goes far beyond simplistic Hollywood fare. Dennis Quaid stars as widowed university lecturer Lawrence Wetherhold, who teaches English lit and who has emotionally shut down since his wife�s death He has become disillusioned and cynical both in his teaching and his personal life. Into his life resurfaces his unconventional adopted brother Chuck [Thomas Hayden Church] and a beautiful doctor [Sarah Jessica Parker] who is also scared of emotional growth. Mark Poirie�s script is pitch perfect, every line, every sense of character, deliciously delineated, under the masterful direction of Murro, who has crafted an elegant, comic gem, that has the right balance of brilliant verbal comedy and a deep sense of rich humanity. Beautifully shot, the film contains a collage of great performances by actors who are able to delve deeply into the far reaches of their characters. Quaid is always great to watch, and here he is nuanced to perfection as a man emotionally disconnected but whose evolution is wonderfully realized. Sarah Jessica Parker delivers her finest performance on screen in years. Her pain, her sense of emotional restraint is visually apparent in her eyes and face. Look carefully as she acts here and you will find depth and emotional truth. As for Church, he has become a comic maestro and has some exquisite, brilliant moments especially in his scenes with Ellen Page, who is a caustic dynamo as the troubled daughter who comes to realize that intelligence is not always what it�s cracked up to be. Eloquent, smart and flawless, Smart People is a rich and exuberant entertainment that is as smart as the people it so unflinchingly portrays.

I wasn�t expected to like ”A Complete History of My Sexual Failures”, but after 10 minutes I was hooked. Directed by Chris Waitt, this ferociously audacious British documentary of sorts revolves around the hapless filmmaker trying to figure out why he has been dumped by all of his ex-girlfriends. He does this by interviewing his mother and as many of the women who entered his life, even when he was 11. He tries to figure out why he can�t have an erection, and particular journey takes the viewer and director on an unexpected and at times unpleasant journey. Sexual Failures is what Sundance needs, a film of sheer audacity and originality as this is. Hilarious, pathetic, uncomfortable and consistently entertaining, there is ultimate more to the film than meets the eye, as Witt finally discovers what his problem is. At the end of the film, you are faced with a human being, trying to simply stumble his way through an anarchic sea of love. Waitt�s film is rich is unforgettable moments of comedy and ultimate moments of raw humanity. It�s a fabulous film that has huge commercial possibility.

Craig Lucas� ”Birds of America” is, like ”Smart People”, a film that explores relationships and family in all their fragility. Another study of siblings, the film is exquisitely understated, yet deeply and resonantly human. In what is his best performance to date, Matthew Perry plays a university lecturer who struggles with a repressive home and professional life, as well as making amends for the trouble his free-spirited brother and sister cause about town. After the death of his parents, Perry�s Morrie looked after his brother and sister, both troubled, while coping with his marriage to Betty [another luminous performance from Lauren Graham] who desperately wants a child while her husband waits for tenure. Ginnifer Goodwin plays the sexually rebellious sister who is far more than she seems while the always dazzling Ben Foster shines as the tormented brother. This is a smart, poetic and deeply human film that meticulously explores what it means to communicate and be a part of a family. A remarkable, emotive work, the film�s sublime performances, razor sharp script and finely tuned direction males ”Birds of America” a rich masterwork that is both gently humorous but ultimately a moving and vivid film.

Stay tuned for more Sundance highjs and lows.