Sundance London 2014 – Day Three
On the third and final day I tried to make up for lost time with a final trio of screenings, taking in a picture which I hadn’t originally intended to see but decided to give a chance, followed by a terrific documentary and probably the most anticipated screening of the festival – Blue Ruin. At this stage of a festival you pretty much click into a rhythm, arrive at venue, coffee, movie, twenty minute break, coffee, movie, circle and repeat. It’s so revitalising to see these films without the associated half hour of adverts which plague civilian movie screenings, or sitting through the same damn trailers you’ve seen a half dozen times before, pure unmediated movies because as Truffaut said ‘Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.’ Well, I’m not quite that voracious a bookworm as I’m lucky if I manage three books a month but enough of these distractions, lets close this down for another year with a final successful tranche of screenings which may just harbour the first sleeper major critical smash of the year;
First up on the final day was Obvious Child, a twentysomething comedy drama featuring struggling stand-up Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) and the pitfalls of her career and love life. Things have hit a turbulent patch with her bookstore day-job coming to a close due to the rising New York commercial rents,, her comedy career has stalled by playing the same routines at the same dank clubs, her long term boyfriend has just dumped her and then a one night stand results in an unexpected pregnancy. Ten minutes in and initially thought was going to be a real chore as the central character of Sophie could easily go one of two ways, an irritating narcissist with a poor line in humour, or a charming young woman with a devastating screen charisma – the reality is somewhere in the middle. It’s a character driven film and is at times neatly observed of that uncertain period of your life when you feel things like your dream career and meeting ‘the one’ should be coalescing, and when that doesn’t happen terror and despair can set-in. I didn’t laugh much as it didn’t strike my particular funny bone, but as it ambles along it slowly works a subtle little charm, not one to dwell in the memory but a pleasant enough one a half hour diversion.
A little political context first I think. Although same-sex marriage was enacted in California for a short while the legality was reversed by the proponents of Proposition 8 which was brought to a referendum in 2008, on the same ballot as the voting choice of either McCain and Obama during that historic election. Whilst millions celebrated the election of the first African American president gay and lesbian dudes were devastated by the passing of the Proposition 8 mandate on a slim 53% majority which invalidated and reversed hundreds of marriages, prompting two brave gay couples – one lesbian, the other two gay guys – decide to challenge the decision in the Californian Supreme Court. Filmed over a gruelling six years this civic minded piece is a terrific documentary which follows the traditional paradigm of fly on the wall filming as the story develops and the case is fought in the legal offices, the courts and the homes of the plaintiffs, all sublimated with the traditional form of talking head recollections and reflections. Anyone interested in civil rights will be riveted by the battle and its personal effects on the legal team and the two couples, it’s also fascinating by having your prejudices challenged quite brilliantly when the team hire severe right-wing republican constitutional lawyer Theodore Olson as their lead lawyer , on political paper he is utterly opposed to everything anyone who stands even remotely left of centre and has been at the vanguard of some abhorrent decisions (he was George Bush’s counsel and he effectively won the constitional fight for the White House back in 2000), but he sees the case as a Civil Rights abomination, a constitutional violation to prevent one sector of society to access the state functions that others enjoy, and as a supporter of the concept of marriage he genuinely feels this is the most important case of his prestigious career. As a left-winger you should loathe the guy but the genuine affection he feels for his clients and their case is palpable – naturally you’d expect him to loathe LGBT people as a religious aberration or something – and it’s in these grey areas that the documentary operates which mark it as elevated and fascinating in the form. Like a extended episode of The West Wing this documentary its a fascinating story if you enjoy legal intrigue as I do, with a few twists and turns which keep the energy levels high, all the way through to the deeply moving resolutions.
My most anticipated film of the festival was Blue Ruin so I’m enormously relived to report that it exceeded its lofty expectations, if you in any way enjoy nasty, uncompromising neo-noirs then you’re in for a absolute treat. I’ve not got much to add to my full review here, other than to say its procedural black comedy is obsidian pitch-perfect, the violence is earned and appropriately shocking and affecting, and I think we’ll be seeing much more of main actor Macon Blair who turns in a terrific performance – the film could comfortably be pitched as the Coen brothers remaking Death Wish. So that’s that for another year, overall a strong programme with a couple of four star fantastic movies (Fruitvale Station, Blue Ruin), a clutch of perfectly serviceable if unremarkable fare, and one stinker (Hits) – a pretty good ratio out of ten screenings – myself and my esteemed colleagues coverage is here.. But there’s no rest for the wicked as I’ve already committed to another festival, a less prestigious or publicised event which gets going in a couple of weeks, before then I suppose I should make an effort to see Transcendence (despite the atrocious reviews I think it’s only fair to give it a chance) and the intriguing sounding Locke…..