This year's tagline at Sundance is "Look Again," but judging by the reactions of the festival's opening night films folks don't really want to look again, they want to look for something new, exciting and original.
"It was paint-by-numbers Sundance."
Hello I Must Be Going was one of a few films that opened the festival last night; a quirky romantic dramedy about a recently-divorced soul-searcher (Malnie Lynskey) who moves back in with her parents and subsequently falls for the teenage son of the man her father desperately needs as a client in order to keep his house and retire. And yes, it was paint-by-numbers Sundance -- cute and ironic in all the right spots, with the kind of dysfunctional characters we've seen countless times before from both previous festival films and the ensemble cast (how many times can both Blythe Danner and Julie White play neurotic moms with frizzy hair?). Sure it's harmless and enjoyable in that "It's Sunday afternoon and I've got nothing to watch, so I guess I'll throw this on for awhile" kind of way, but we need more. The audience needs more. The film's star, Melanie Lynskey, is fantastic and ready for bigger and better things; it's just too bad this film wasn't one of them.
"Hey, did you hear Tom Cruise's son is DJ'ing a party this weekend? So random, right?"
"Where's the shuttle? Is there a shuttle coming? Can this one get me to the Eccles?"
"If Kristen Stewart was a better actress, she'd be Teresa Palmer."
Wish You Were Here, one of the fest's other opening night films, has very good intentions. It's shot well, features some truly stand-out performances from Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer and newcomer Felicity Price (who also co-wrote), and it's the kind of film you really want to love. Unfortunately, like so many festival films, it just tries to do too much at once. It wants to be a thriller, a missing-persons mystery, a love story, a romantic drama and an encyclopedia of reasons why you should never visit small, random villages in Malaysia. Some of those parts work -- especially when it involves the mystery behind what happened to the one friend out of four who failed to return from their double-date trip abroad -- but most of them do not, and while the ending definitely sneaks up on you and yanks you out of your seat, it's a bit too little too late.
"How long is the line? Can you save me a seat? Are you allowed to save seats?"
"Yeah, all the acquisitions people left after a half hour. Not a good sign."
"Man, I hated that movie."
"So good, right? Loved it!"
"Someone on this shuttle hasn't showered."
"Everyone around me on the plane was throwing up while we were landing. Fun times. What are you seeing today?"
"I just want to see something that takes some risks."
And that's exactly where my head is at as we enter the first full day of the festival. Where are the risk-takers? Where are the films that just say f*ck it and throw everything they have at you hoping something sticks? Beasts of the Southern Wild, inspired by the below short Glory At Sea, looks to be the first Sundance film to do just that. I'm seeing it in a couple hours. Eyes wide open, fingers crossed.