All the signage at South by Southwest 2011 says "Music / Film / Interactive," but that billing isn't reflected in the makeup of the crowd here – according to what I've heard, the Interactive badge-holders outnumber the movie and music people. Combined.
And they certainly seem to be all over the place, throwing parties for iPhone apps, blocking sidewalks with placards for websites, and promoting their businesses by giving out energy shots to passers-by. (More on the need for those in a moment.) The web's also playing a big part in the other two areas of the conference – the Source Code bus is festooned with those tags that you read with your smartphone (taggers get entered into a contest where winners receive anything from a T-shirt or wireless mouse to an X Box or a Kinect) and panel discussions cover how to use the internet to raise money for or to promote your movie and your album.
My favorite geek moment happened outside of the Convention Center, when I was acccosted by a gaggle of early-20-somethings – they got my attention by yelling, "Hey! Rotten Tomatoes!" at me – involved with something called "Startup Bus." The premise is that people traveled to SXSW via bus from various cities all over the country, and en route they were supposed to start new websites or companies or applications. One member of the group showed me his invention, an iPhone app called "Ejokulate" that would randomly cobble together wacky subjects, verbs, and predicates into what was supposed to be a funny sentence. Based on the results he showed me…well, maybe he can fine-tune it on the way back home.
In other developments, I had my first Starbucks "trenta" on Sunday – that's their new largest size, a gut-busting 31 ounces of coffee. But I don't feel guilty about it; the pace here is punishing. Nights go late with midnight movies and party-party-parties all over the place, and then work picks up again in the morning with early screenings and panels. The fact that we all lost an hour on Saturday night/Sunday morning to "spring forward" just made everyone a little bit more logy.
Still, I managed to check out some cool stuff – Robert Rodriguez and Greg Rucka hosted a panel Sunday afternoon about the challenges of adapting comics to the big screen. The two had very different track records in that department, with Rodriguez scoring big with his film version of Frank Miller's Sin City (co-conceived with Miller) while Rucka's Whiteout went from great graphic novel to crappy Kate Beckinsale vehicle. Rucka's main piece of advice? "For me, the best superhero movies are the ones that never feel the need to apologize for themselves."
Then I ducked over to hear MSN's James Rocchi moderate a panel of entertainment writers – including former Movies.com critic Jen Yamato – talking about ethical (does getting sent on a junket by a studio color your eventual review of the film?) and financial (is Huffington Post going to starve all writers to death?) issues being faced in the industry. As an entertainment writer who worries that this profession is slowly disappearing because so many bloggers seem happy to do it for free, I found the talk fascinating and funny, although I didn't leave feeling much better about my long-term career prospects.
But screw it, let's go to some movies! Through an amazing conflagration of luck, timing, and local friends in the right place, I was able to get into Sunday night's hottest ticket, a double feature of two upcoming films from Universal – the sci-fi comedy Paul, opening this week, as well as Paul Feig's Bridesmaids, starring and co-written by Kristen Wiig, which the studio will roll out in May.
Dave and Grae will be reviewing Paul this week, so all I'll say is that the film's stars and co-writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost give very good Q&A, as you might imagine, and while I laughed a lot, I have to wonder if the movie – riddled with sci-fi reference humor from start to finish – is going to wind up being another Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for Universal; the Comic-Con crowd will eat it up with a spoon (Comic-Con itself actually bookends the movie) and critics will dig it, but mainstream audiences who aren't up on their "Battlestar Galactica" minutiae might choose to stay home.
As for Bridesmaids, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that its release will mark the moment when Wiig (also very funny in Paul) comes into her own as one of the leading comic voices of our era. In an age when so many Hollywood chick-flicks seem to really hate women – the wedding-comedy sub-genre has been particularly guilty in this regard – it's refreshing to see a character-driven movie about women doing ridiculous things, but doing them because they're human. The humor here is outrageous, bawdy, sometimes even scatological, but it's never misogynist.
Wiig stars as a woman whose life has been somewhat directionless since her bakery went bankrupt and her boyfriend dumped her. When best pal Maya Rudolph announces she's getting married and makes Wiig her maid of honor, Wiig is suddenly battling Rudolph's wealthy and glamorous new pal Rose Byrne for BFF status. As he did with his underrated Unaccompanied Minors, Feig (who also created "Freaks and Geeks") assembles an extraordinary comedy cast that includes Jon Hamm, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McClendon-Covey of "Reno 911!", Michael Hitchcock, Mitch Silpa (as a not-having-it flight attendant), "Little Britain" star Matt Lucas, and the late Jill Clayburgh. In addition to her comic prowess, Wiig demonstrates viable acting chops, making us root for her character’s budding romance with adorable state trooper Chris O’Dowd, last seen as the best thing in Gulliver's Travels.
If there's one complaint, it's that Bridesmaids sometimes feels like it's too long – but then, it's so consistently funny from start to finish, I wouldn't want to be the one who decides what could actually get cut out of it. (While the SXSW screening was billed as a "work-in-progress," Feig told the audience we were seeing the final cut, minus just a few sound effects.) Now that the Sex and the City franchise has gone south at least temporarily, I hope that similarly large hordes of women (and gay men, and straight men) will embrace this gut-busting – but also sweet, but also raunchy, but also witty – comedy.
MDC at SXSW 2011:
2011 SXSW Film Festival - Photo Gallery
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Rainn Wilson and James Gunn
Dialogue: SXSW - Morgan Spurlock Delivers The Greatest Movie
Dialogue: SXSW - Paul Giamatti Grapples with Win Win
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Apart Star Joey Lauren Adams
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with A Year in Mooring's Josh Lucas
Day Five - Film Ends, >Conan Heads to the Big Screen and Anchor Bay Makes the Biggest Buy in Conference History
Day Four - Tuneful Documentaries and Concert Films
Day Three - Simon Pegg in Paul, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and Interactive in Everything
Day Two - Josh Lucas' A Year in Mooring, Apart and the Not-So-Super
Day One - Source Code, Insidious, Shiner Bock and Smartphones