“April 2013 has proven to be both difficult and surreal for those with ties to the greater Boston area,” begins Victoria Large, introducing a new feature at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. “But Boston of course remains a resilient and vibrant city, one with a thriving film culture. In my review of Jarred Alterman’s unconventional documentary Convento a couple of years ago, I wrote that ‘seeing greater Boston get excited about off the radar, out-of-the-ordinary films’ was ‘one of the simple pleasures’ of the annual Independent Film Festival of Boston. This year, diving into a slate of new independent films with other area film lovers and celebrating one of Boston’s biggest weeks for movies sounds particularly inviting.”
This year’s IFFB opens with James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now and closes on April 30 with Lake Bell’s In a World… Both were quite well received when they premiered at Sundance, so let’s have a quick look at those reviews. Later, as the festival rolls on, and notable reviews of notable films appear, at Not Coming or elsewhere, I’ll make note of them here. Don R. Lewis has a quick overview of the lineup at Film Threat.
“On paper,” wrote Time Out New York‘s David Fear in January, “James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now read like a very typical Sundance entry: Two high school students (Miles Teller and The Descendents‘s Shailene Woodley) from small-town Georgia fall in love. They both have beaucoup baggage; he may have a serious drinking problem. The difference between the movie you just saw in your head after you read that sentence and what transpires onscreen, however, is huge, and the bulk of said difference comes courtesy of the two young leads. Not to say that Ponsoldt doesn’t deftly balance various elements—teen romance, substance abuse, familial strife—and present familiar tropes with a minimum of dramatic handwringing; as his previous Sundance entry Smashed (2012) proved, he can handle well-worn subjects in a way that doesn’t grate. Nor is that a slam on the rest of the cast, all of whom do impressive work—especially Friday Night Lights‘s Kyle Chandler, whose performance as a deadbeat dad might be best described as ‘Bleary Eyes, Pickled Heart, Totally Lost.’ (His turn essentially drives a stake through Coach Taylor’s chest.) But this is Teller and Woodley’s show, and the chemistry between them lifts the film above and beyond the normal troubled-youngsters-humpin’-and-boozin’ social-issue movie.”
“Skillfully adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, evocatively lensed in the working-class neighborhoods of Athens, Ga.,” writes Rob Nelson for Variety, “this bittersweet ode to the moment of childhood’s end builds quietly to a pitch-perfect finale.”
“There are broken hearts, a prom dance, and familiar final-act revelations,” grants Anthony Kaufman in Screen. “But written by the screenwriters of (500) Days of Summer, the film injects some hard-won poignancy into the tale of a young man wavering on the precipice of adulthood.”
More from Sam Adams (AV Club, A-), Nora Chute (Thompson on Hollywood), Erik Davis (Movies.com), Ed Gibbs (Guardian, 4/5), Owen Gleiberman (EW), Jordan Hoffman (Film.com, A-), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B), James Rocchi (MSN), and Chase Whale (Twitch). Interviews with Ponsoldt: Alexandra Byer (Filmmaker), Indiewire, and James Rocchi (MSN). In Contention‘s Kristopher Tapley‘s noted that A24’s picked up the film, while the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth reports that Ponsoldt will write and direct an adaptation of Julianna Baggott‘s young adult novel, Pure.
“To call Lake Bell a magnetic, intelligent, blithely screwball leading lady in the Carole Lombard tradition might be selling her short,” wrote John Anderson from Park City for Variety. “With In a World…, a rollicking laffer about the cutthroat voiceover biz in Los Angeles, she proves herself a comedy screenwriter to be reckoned with.”
“The title somewhat obscurely refers to the intro that portentously begins so many trailers for movies set in the future or otherwise distant parts,” noted the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “Here, the man who has undoubtedly uttered these words more than anyone else is Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), the Pavarotti of v.o. Announced as the recipient of this year’s life achievement award in his profession, Sam is both genial and intimidating, a big, bald man in his 60s who tells his daughter Carol (Bell) she must immediately move out of his house because he intends to have his 30ish new girlfriend move in.”
“In a World… shames both big-money, big-studio limp, lame Hollywood rom-coms and the toothless, gum-the-hand-that-feeds-them lukewarm ‘satires’ about Hollywood Hollywood makes,” wrote James Rocchi for MSN in January. “Carol’s journey is one of self-awareness, to be sure, but it’s also one that feels like it has real stakes and real struggle, and Bells’ script captures the way that both families and the movie business are riddled with insecure egomaniacs who can, and will, knock you down so they might stand a little taller—and how, in modern movie-making, a big win can come with provisos that make it necessary to take the hit and keep going. Sam isn’t a monster, but he’s not that great a guy, either, and Melamed’s performance is utterly winning, combining velvet-voiced pomposity and scratchy, whimpering self-doubt.”
“The movie can’t seem to decide if it’s a romantic comedy using the voiceover world as a backdrop or a Hollywood satire with a romantic throughline, but fortunately both are equally ingratiating,” writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. “The cast is stuffed with great comedians, including Demetri Martin, Nick Offerman, Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, and Tig Notaro, and Bell shows a flair for devising physical gags that express the emotional undercurrent of a scene.”
More from David D’Arcy (Artinfo), Cory Everett (Playlist, B), Tim Grierson (Screen), and Amanda Mae Meyncke (Film.com, A). Interviews with Bell: Filmmaker, John Horn (Los Angeles Times), James Rocchi (MSN), and Nigel M. Smith at Indiewire, where he also reported that the film “has been nabbed by both Roadside Attractions and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Roadside will handle the U.S. release, while Sony will take on the rest of the world.” Jada Yuan and Katie Van Syckle spoke with Bell, too, for Vulture, where they noted that she’d just won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.
Update, 5/6: “The Punk Singer, Sini Anderson’s new documentary about Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, opens with old footage of Hanna in the midst of a fierce spoken word performance,” writes Victoria Large at Not Coming. “‘I’m your worst nightmare come to life!’ Hanna shouts while performing the piece, ‘Cus I’m not gonna shut up!’ Anderson’s film goes on to celebrate Hanna’s continued refusal to shut up—as demonstrated through her outspoken activism and highly political music — and to examine why Hanna moved away from live performances after Le Tigre’s final tour in 2005. Rich with interviews, performance footage, and some very intimate glimpses into Hanna’s personal life, The Punk Singer is an engaging film that should appeal to the uninitiated as well as hardcore fans of Hanna’s work.”