A remake of Susanne Bier’s 2006 film of the same title, After the Wedding kicked off Sundance with a bang as the opening night premier. Isabel (Michelle Williams) manages an orphanage in Kolkata seeking financing to help expand the reach and capabilities of her institution. When she is called to meet a potential investor, Theresa (Julianne Moore), in New York City, she discovers that Theresa is married to her ex-boyfriend, Oscar (Billy Crudup), and they are raising Isabel’s daughter, whom she and Oscar agreed to give up for adoption at birth. Unquestionably, the strength of the film rests in the incredible ensemble of actors who are all working at their best; Williams and Moore may even make some noise once awards season comes around. The drama is searing, sometimes even devastating, but Freundlich keeps our spirits up with delicate moments of affection, and hearty jokes that add some much needed and effective comic relief to help us survive the grudgingly emotional film.
In 2027 Brazil, Joana works at a notary’s office where she tries to convince couples to reconsider getting a divorce. Outside the office, she belongs to pseudo-Christian religious group, Divine Love, where she works on maintaining a healthy relationship with her husband, Danilo, and worships God in hope he will bless her with a baby she has been unable to conceive for quite some time. Unfortunately, the film never comes to be the slick, edgy sci-fi tale which the beautiful, neon-glowing opening titles and techno score promise to deliver. Divine Love doesn’t use its period to elevate the story, but rather to plant a few cool gadgets that conveniently advance the plo and don’t help to craft a uniquely futuristic environment that forces the audience to reconsider life in our time. Instead, the film obsesses over its blunt, graphic pornographic scenes that make us more uncomfortable rather than invested in the relationships.
Written by Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy makes no attempts to disguise itself as anything but autobiographical from the start, as sounds robo-alien explosions reverberate through the theater as the opening logos appear on a black screen. The film’s lack of subtlety in addressing Labeouf’s fingerprints on the script is in fact a great strength, resulting in a deeply intimate, personal narrative that lingers with you far beyond the closing credits. Alternating between his time in rehab and beginnings as a young star, Jacob Tremblay and Lucas Hedges are perfect in the title role of Otis (aka Shia) as he explores his past growing up with his dad, James, played by Shia himself. Though much of the film’s success will be attributed to LaBeouf’s great script, the direction of Alma Har’el must not be overlooked, as her ability to hit notes of egregiously dark humor and raw father-son drama is a tremendous feat. Though, based on how it’s been framed over the years, one may think LaBeouf was just a bratty kid who couldn't handle early fame, Honey Boy peels back the emotional layers of one of Hollywood’s most tumultuous stars to deliver what will surely be considered one of the year’s best indie releases of the year.
Following the extinction of mankind, a caretaking robot, Mother, raises Daughter (newcomer Clara Ruggard in a performance that should launch a steady career on the big screen), seemingly the only remaining human, having been artificially born in a fallout shelter. However, when a Woman (Hilary Swank), arrives at the bunker with a bullet wound and Daughter lets her inside, she begins to question the nature of her existence and the true motivations of Mother. Above all else, I am Mother should be applauded for the fact that it even exists as an indie flick with production and set design on par with any sci-fi blockbuster in recent memory. The steely gray, hollow, futuristic aesthetic perfectly counterbalances the post-apocalyptic wasteland lying just outside the bunker’s sealed entrance. However, the film never reaches the action-packed velocity we hope it too. Swank’s arrival seems as if it will increase the film’s intensity, but rather than turning into a taut thriller, I am Mother gets caught in limbo trying to play a game of “who can we trust?” Surely, the film leaves us with unanswered questions to ponder, but they’re more grounded in thoughts about the facts of the story itself rather than emotional subtext.
Cathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is a control freak who micromanages every aspect of her life, as well as those around her. She is somebody who dabbles in a range of hobbies and activities, but doesn’t truly specialize in anything as she drifts through life from one monotonous task to the next. As her life continually spirals further out of control, Cathy finds herself in a midlife crisis, day by day becoming more of a hypocrite, as she secretly betrays the values she publicly endorses. Ultimately, Cathy creates more problems than she sets out to solve, including but not limited to cheating on her husband, and accidentally having the son of the man whom she cheated with fall in love with her. In the same way that Cathy spreads herself too thin, so too does the film, as too many characters and fickle relationships result in a bunch of half-baked ideas. While Imaginary Order certainly has some highlights and laugh out loud moments, it doesn’t offer much more than that.
Adapted from a 1940 novel of the same title by Richard Wright, Native Son follows the life of Bigger Thomas (Ashton Sanders), a black teenager with punk rock green hair and anti-society gothic outfits to go with it, as he tries to leave his poor beginnings behind and make an honest life for himself. The true nature of Bigger’s character is hard to pin down throughout the entirety of the film, toeing the line between wanting an honest life and indulging in a life of crime, and oftentimes betraying everything we thought we knew about him from scene to scene. When he gets a job as the personal driver for the wealthiest family in Chicago, the daughter, Mary (Margaret Qualley) and her political activist boyfriend, Jan (Nick Robinson) threaten his job and well-being as he drives them around to drug-fueled parties and secret activist meetings behind her father’s (Bill Camp) back. What begins as an interesting needling of the hypocrisy of white, wealthy, woke teenagers who often create the same problems they advocate to eliminate is destroyed by a midway plot-twist that delivers such a disturbing gut punch, it is impossible to recover. While each half may be a great achievement independent of one another, the combination of the two in one film does not function well, and even degrades from what was a strong first hour.
By: Quinten Sansosti
Quinten is currently a junior majoring in Political Science with an Arts of the Moving Image certificate. His favorite filmmakers include Quentin Tarantino, Denis Villeneuve, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.