dir Marjane Satrapi; with Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick 14/US ****
It's tricky to categorise this offbeat horror comedy, which maintains a playful tone even as things get genuinely dark and disturbing. But director Satrapi maintains a wonderfully witty visual vibe even as Michael R Perry's viciously clever script explores the pitch-black corners of mental illness. It's the story of Jerry (Reynolds), a tormented young man trying to get on with life after being instituted. He has a job in a bathtub factory and a helpful therapist (Jacki Weaver), and he has his eye on a girl in accounting (Arterton), although her colleague (Anna Kendrick) is the one who really likes him. But Jerry has also gone off his meds, and is hearing the voices of his loveable dog Bosco and bitter cat Mr Whiskers. And what they tell him to do is pretty horrific. The film touches on so many sub-genres that we never have a clue where it's going next. Is this a black comedy about a serial killer? A sharp tragedy about a guy who's criminally insane? A creepy fable about a murderer's inner turmoil? This complex layering makes the film far more involving than it should be, and also far scarier than expected for a comedy. So even if performances are a bit broad and uneven, the film exerts a strong grip on the audience, provoking laughter and nervous horror in all the wrong places.
dir-scr David Cross; with Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh 14/US ***.
Actor-comedian Cross makes his feature directing debut with this offbeat ensemble comedy about instant fame. It's a sharply written script with a terrific cast that includes both newcomers and established stars. And even if Cross' direction wobbles, the film keeps us laughing as it makes some rather astute commentary on growing up in the reality TV era. Set in Upstate New York, the key figures are Katelyn (Hagner), a teen who believes that fame is an inherent right, and her father Dave (Walsh), who is pushed into prominence when he complains to the town council about their shoddy service. Swirling around them are another teen (Jake Cherry) who also believes he has the talent to make it big and has a crush on Katelyn, and three ridiculous hipster bloggers from New York (James Adomian, Wyatt Cenac and Derek Walters) who descend on Dave in the hopes that his cause boosts their profile. Yes, everyone in this film wants to get noticed, and no one wants to do the work. It's all a bit caustic and obvious, and scenes play out without much sense of momentum, but the brave actors make the most of the witty, telling dialog. And this often hilarious film carries an important kick.
dir-scr Sara Colangelo; with Boyd Holbrook, Elizabeth Banks 14/US ****
Expanding her 2010 short into a feature, filmmaker Colangelo beautifully captures a small-town community in the grip of a series of tragedies that may or may not be accidental. Watching these characters grapple with the ambiguity of the situation is riveting, especially as each must muster the courage to tell the truth. It's a powerful drama that envelops us in its world and doesn't go easy on us. The main characters are Amos (Holbrook), injured in a recent mining accident and trying to get his life back on track; Bill and Diane (Josh Lucas and Banks), the manager of the mine and his wife, who live in relative splendour in the working-class West Virginia town; and Owen (Mud's Jacob Lofland), whose father died in the accident and who has a secret that is not easy to keep. These people circle around each other in ways that sometimes feel a bit contrived and scripted, but push the characters into fascinating corners, drawing out breathtaking a range of emotions. Performances are subtle and understated, and the setting adds beautifully to the film's overall tone of tense uncertainty. It's also a striking drama with themes so deep that the film is very hard to shake afterwards. Keep an eye on Colangelo.
C R I T I C A L W E E K :
I only saw two non-Sundance films last week, but both were terrific. Roman Polanski's Venus in Fur stars Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric as an actress and director during a stage audition. As the power shifts between them in subtle, complex ways, both actors deliver powerhouse performances, captured with wit and invention by Polanski. But it's the script (by Polanski and David Ives, based on Ives' play) that is the main show: astoundingly clever. Less sophisticated, Advanced Style is a documentary about over-50 women in New York who are almost ridiculously glamorous. They're also fantastic movie characters, and we feel like we could follow them around all day long. A lot of fun, with some emotional moments as well.