As any Sundance veteran can tell you, the best way to start the festival is with a series of movies about depressed artistic types who don't know what to do with their lives. You have to plan carefully, too, because on average only about 80 of the films that screen here match that description.
I started my 2012 Sundance with This Must Be the Place, Hello I Must Be Going, and I Am Not a Hipster**. I had high hopes for that first one, especially. The writer/director, Paolo Sorrentino, was responsible for Il Divo, an ultra-stylish drama about Italian politics that I loved (and keep in mind, I usually don't like politics or Italians). Moreover, This Must Be the Place stars Sean Penn as an aging Goth rocker who goes looking for a Nazi war criminal. Based on that description alone, I would greenlight that movie, except I would call it Robert Smith: Nazi Hunter.
Unfortunately, This Must Be the Place is a weird train wreck, and not in a good way. Sean Penn speaks in a slow, quiet, high-pitched whine for two hours, punctuating it with a whimpering giggle that's so annoying it might actually be a biological weapon. It's fascinating that someone would put such a grating and bizarre character at the center of a movie, but it's only fascinating in the academic sense, not in the sense of actually wanting to watch it. I'm baffled that the guy who made Italian politics interesting also made a Nazi-hunting middle-aged emo singer boring.
Hello, I Must Be Going has pixie-cute snark factory Melanie Lynskey playing a recently divorced young woman who's been bumming around her parents' house for three months, sleeping all day and being a loser. I think we've all been there. Blythe Danner plays her snobby, social-climbing mother, and her very best moment is pronouncing the word "antidepressants" with a French twist on the last syllable, as in "croissants." There shouldn't be any stigma about taking antidepressants anyway, but pronouncing it that way might help make it seem classier.
Anyway, Hello, I Must Be Going benefits from Lynskey's likable performance, and it's good for a few laughs. But I suspect I'm going to see five movies this week that are exactly like it, right down to the indie-folk acoustic-guitar soundtrack. (Is there a resource where filmmakers can buy generic indie-folk acoustic-guitar songs, similar to the clearinghouses where supermarkets used to buy Muzak? Asking for a friend.)
Someone else who could use a little Prozac is the guy in I Am Not a Hipster, who is, indeed, not a hipster. No one accuses him of being one, either, so I don't know what that title is all about. He's an indie rocker in San Diego who's had a bit of underground success on the local scene but is unhappy, temperamental, and moody. He's kind of a jerk. Unlike a lot of movies about listless jerks, however, this one gets into the reasons for his current state of mind, and Dominic Bogart's very good performance in the lead succeeds at making us feel empathy for him (alternating with feeling infuriated at what a douche he is). Of the three movies about depressed artists that I saw today, I Am Not Hipster is the only one that really had anything to say. And it did it without Sean Penn or Nazis!
**As you can see, I'm also sticking to movies whose titles are complete sentences. Tomorrow I'm seeing Please Stop Kicking My Chair, I Had a Layover in Memphis Once, and This Guy Knows What I'm Talking About.