Sundance 2023 Day 5 Recap
The Festival is now officially halfway over, but we've still got a lot more films to recap before we're done! I've had a great festival thus far and discovered so many good films. Yesterday I watched four movies: Theater Camp, Eileen, Cat Person, and Talk To Me.
When the owner of a beloved, but flailing theater camp, Joan (Amy Sedaris) unexpectedly falls into a coma, it's up to her inept son (Jimmy Tatro) not to run things into the ground while she's gone. Meanwhile, the eccentric teachers at the camp (Ben Platt and Molly Gordon) decide to write a play for the kids to perform in Joan's honor in hopes of reviving both Joan's health, as well as the camp as a whole. Can they succeed in creating the perfect musical before Troy gets convinced to cut his losses and sell the place?
Theater Camp is told in the style of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. Its humor is dry yet very funny, but also for a very specific niche audience. I enjoyed the film, but couldn't help but think that this story would work much better told in a long-form way, such as a television show (ie The Office, or Parks & Recreation. There's so much more you can do with these characters, and plotlines that it almost feels a shame to have them just for one movie.
Thomasin McKenzie plays the titular Eileen in this oddball coming-of-age with a twist. Eileen is a quiet introvert who yearns to explore her sexuality. She catches herself fantasizing about the men she comes across throughout the day as she works at her boring job at the local prison. When the lovely Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) starts working as the prison psychiatrist, Eileen's world is turned upside down in the hopes that Rebecca might have some interest in Eileen as well.
Eileen's reception has been polarizing. I knew to expect that it would take a sharp turn narratively, and still, the film caught me off guard as to where it decided to go. I'm sure the progression is better foreshadowed in the book, but it didn't work quite as well onscreen. Still, I'd love to see it again now that I know where the movie is headed to see if I can pick up on clues I'd missed before. Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie are both very good here and do their best to ground the film when it heads off the rails. I kind of admire it for what it attempts, I'm just not sure it succeeds.
Young college student and movie theater employee Margot (Emilia Clarke) awkwardly hits it off with Robert (Nicholas Braun) one night at the cinema. Soon the two start exchanging texts and can't seem to get enough of talking to each other. The romance escalates, but Margot finds herself constantly doubting Robert's intentions and looking for red flags. Will she find them, or is it all in her head?
Cat Person is an excellent portrayal of the minefields women experience while navigating the complex and dangerous world of dating. We've all heard horror stories, so it's only normal for our minds to constantly picture the worst possible scenarios. Cat Person attempts to juggle multiple tones, constantly making the audience question what's real and what's not. The film mostly succeeds thanks to a winsome performance once again from Emilia Jones (proving to be a new Sundance MVP) and her awkward chemistry with Nicholas Braun. Though I think it could use another round of trimming and streamlining the middle and final act, I did really enjoy its unique style and what it had to say.
TALK TO ME
Talk To Me introduces the audience to a reality where young adults have discovered an intense new way to get high--that is, to allow your body to be possessed by spirits. It's all safe, so long as you impose a strict time limit, and have your friends pull you out before your time's up. What could possibly go wrong?
Sundance has been in a bit of a horror rut the last couple of years without any huge standouts like the likes of Hereditary, The Witch, or The Babadook. Talk To Me breaks that streak and is absolutely fantastic. It must be said that the makeup here and the look of all the dead spirits is extraordinary. It's films like these that make me so mad at the over-reliance of CGI in horror nowadays when this film is proof that convincing makeup really is so much more effective. Talk To Me introduces a simple concept and executes it in a perfectly horrific way. The stakes are high and the tension feels unbearable. I cannot rave about it enough. Please make many more of these.