As Sundance winds down, it's time to take stock of the surprises. Some of the most buzzed-about films turned out to be disappointing, while others broke out of nowhere. Beasts of the Southern Wild, which concerns a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy who lives with her dad Wink in an apocalyptic town, was barely mentioned before the festival — probably thanks to that description — yet ended up at the center of a bidding war (Fox Searchlight acquired). Lauren Anne Miller's comedy For a Good Time, Call..., about roommates who start a phone sex business costarring Ari Graynor, was unexpectedly popular, selling for a rumored $2 million, while Compliance, in which fast-food employees are coerced by a police officer into strip searching and sexually assaulting their coworker (The Good Wife's Dreama Walker), caused the most controversy. SPIN discovered that Josh Radnor is very popular with the ladies despite Ted's quest for love on How I Met Your Mother — although the mob that surrounded him while here promoting his second film, Liberal Arts, were mostly teenage girls — and that Safety Not Guaranteed's Aubrey Plaza is a lot like her Parks and Recreation character (this may or may not be a value-neutral statement).Below, a roundup of our final day at the festival:
Haverchuck Is Hot
Debatably misogynist fare aside, women were well-represented this year. Like Graynor, Bachelorette's Lizzy Caplan had a good run. Of the many indie dramas focused on modern-day relationships (Liberal Arts, Nobody Walks, Smashed), her Save the Date was the most thoroughly charming. Directed by Mike Mahon and cowritten by comic book artist Jeffrey Brown, Date features a cast of actors who deserved more than their endangered or cancelled television shows: Caplan (Party Down), Alison Brie (Community) and Martin Starr (Party Down and Freaks and Geeks). The latter two play Beth and Kevin, an engaged couple in the midst of planning their wedding when Beth's sister and aspiring comic book artist (Caplan) breaks up with Kevin's Wolfbird bandmate (George Arend). Sarah's rebound romance with Jonathan (Mark Webber, whose film The End of Love was also a hit at Sundance) complicates the relationship between the sisters and forces Beth and Kevin to reconsider the cost of marriage. It's just the kind of ordinary story that fits this appealing ensemble, although both Date and another favorite, Your Sister's Sister, frustrated us with a similar parting gimmick (enough said). Also, Starr as a shaggy-haired drummer proves that Freaks and Geeks was just an awkward phase.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead Wets Herself
Speaking of television stars who don't get enough love: Aaron Paul. Because he's so frequently outshined by his Breaking Bad costar Brian Cranston, Paul doesn't get enough credit for his alternately comic and excruciating turn as Jesse Pinkman so we were really looking forward to Smashed. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a lot to work with and the movie belongs to Mary Elizabeth Winstead. As the alcoholic Kate, Winstead must do her best drunk acting, which is never the easiest feat to pull off, though the Scott Pilgrim star manages pretty well (she inappropriately urinates a couple of times, so the "problem" aspect of her drinking isn't up for much debate). When Kate decides it's time to get clean, she gets more support from her reformed coworker (Nick Offerman, a.k.a. Ron Swanson!) than her hard-drinking husband, Charlie (Paul). As a whole, Smashed would make a better short story: The skeleton was there, the actors have some great scenes together, though there's never a sense of the couple's bond beyond the fact that Charlie loves Kate enough not to mind when she pees the bed. But even if it's missing a more fleshed-out purpose, their struggles are suggestive and sad and Smashed only makes us want to see more from both of its leads.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead on January 22, 2012 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
Katie Aselton to Lake Bell: "Want to Go to the Woods and Get Weird?"
Finally, SPIN's coverage wouldn't be complete without one horror movie, although Black Rock only sort of counts. When Sara (Kate Bosworth) connives to bring her two warring friends (Katie Aselton and Lake Bell) together for a weekend on a remote island, things can't help but go terribly wrong. "It's what I wanted The Descent to be," says Aselton, who also directed, referring to the terrifying 2005 film in which a group of women explore a cave only to discover certain secrets once trapped in one. "I loved how that movie was set up. But the second those albinos came crawling out of the crevices, I'm like, 'What the fuck is going on? We don't need you.'" Inspired by Deliverance and The River Wild more than what she calls "the cheap scares of the found-footage trend," Aselton wanted to try something on the other end of the spectrum from her touchy-feely debut, The Freebie: "Lake and I were friends going into this and I was like, 'Do you want to go to the woods and get weird?' "
Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell on January 21, 2012 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images)
With a loose script written by Aselton's husband, Sundance golden boy Mark Duplass, and improvised by the actresses, Black Rock took its stars on a one-month shoot where actual injuries were sustained. Read no further if you don't want any plot spoilers, but once on the island, the women run into three soldiers who've been dishonorably discharged from the army, villains that Aselton decided upon after seeing the baby-faced veterans in HBO's poignant documentary, Restrepo (though there's nothing heroic about these guys — if anything, their lunacy is nearly cartoonish). Aselton and Bell must put aside their tensions if they want to survive. They might also have to huddle naked in the woods for warmth.
After five days in Park City, there were still so many movies that we didn't get to see, but SPIN will be bringing you more culture coverage going forward so keep checking back in for movie reviews and more.
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