"Enjoy your Sundance Bruce Willis movie!" a colleague quipped just before I suffered through Lucky Number Slevin, the star-studded bastard progeny of Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie and The Usual Suspects. It was a quip that succinctly spoke volumes about the amorphous nature of terms like "independent film" and "Sundance movie," phrases used to describe everything from a $200 dollar intensely personal documentaries edited on iMacs to, well, Lucky Number Slevin, a crime thriller as slickly commercials as any Jerry Bruckheimer extravaganza.
Sundance is a festival rife with paradoxes. It's a celebration of maverick, take-no-prisoners independent filmmaking in which every free inch of space bears the logo of a corporate sponsor. It's an alternate universe where half-forgotten movies like Crime and Punishment in Suburbia once constituted a hot ticket and fat cat corporations line up to be associated with scuzzy micro-budgeted indies.
I came to Sundance with a few modest goals. They are, in a semi-specific order only I know:
1. To uncover the soul of American independent film.
2. To party with Ralph Nader (dude, homeboy's gonna be here pimping his rocking new doc An Unreasonable Man and I will not rest until I'm trading Jager shots with him. My prediction? Our partying, once it occurs, will be unsafe at any speed. Also, we will do an unreasonable amount of partying.
3. To ask Robert Redford why he's so handsome
4. To subsist solely on a diet of complimentary cocktails and appetizers
5. To see as many films as possible.
6. To tune out the guy behind me who keeps describing his film as "John Cassavetes directing Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage.
It looks like I might have to scale back my ambitions a little, as I missed the opening press conference (the perfect place to uncover the secret of Redford's handsomeness). Furthermore, one of my condo-mates has assured me that Sundance parties are nightmarish, over-packed headaches where people screaming to be let out before they're trampled or suffocate to death pass by people begging to be let in so they can experience the horror others are fleeing. Sounds to me a little like The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, only with mojitos. Nevertheless I consider it my sacred professional duty to party as hard as possible for the sake of you, my dear readers.
Anywho, what I have seen so far finna be:
Friends With Money
Nicole Holofcener's new film is very much an extension and continuation of her previous features,
Walking & Talking and Lovely & Amazing. It's a wonderfully observant and painfully true to life comedy-drama about a quartet of friends in their early 40s (played by Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Jennifer Aniston) and explores Holofcener's pet themes of money, friendship, jealousy and vanity with sensitivity, grace and wit. Aniston is a revelation as the only friend without money, a pothead depressive reduced to working as a maid. It seems a particularly fitting opener for this year's 'Dance, both because it exemplifies the best in semi-independent filmmaking and because its class-consciousness seems particularly resonant in a setting where celebrity VIPs get complmentary gift bags worth $25,000 (which just happens to be the cost of a modest independent film.) At one point Aniston even broods over the fact that charities waste fortunes throwing pricey benefit dinners instead of simply donating the money directly to the people they're ostensibly servicing, no doubt parroting the concerns of many of the filmmakers here who'd kill for even a fraction of the resources being thrown around by the bigwigs willy-nilly to impress other bigwigs.
Later, bloggers! In my next post I promise to hit you off with my impressions of Lucky Number Slevin, which serves as the empty, nihilistic Goofus to Friends With Money's noble Gallant.
Your man on the ground,