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Best of Sundance London - Part 3

In the final round-up of the film fest in London, we hail the triumph of the American Indie

Grime-caked, and clad for the entirety of Mud in the same pair of jeans while staking out a remote Mississippi islet, only Matthew McConaughay could make running from the law look this glam. But all’s fair in the name of love, especially when the object of your somewhat unrequited affection is Reese Witherspoon, rendering a convincingly faded Southern belle. At least that is what Ellis (portrayed by the gifted Tye Sheridan) is led to believe as he and his sidekick Neckbone commit petty theft all over town to provide the supplies that will expedite McConaughay’s getaway with his girl, inadvertently crossing bulletpaths with a scary bunch of hillbilly headhunters. As Ellis’ own family life crumbles - his parents divorce, his mother splits, permitting the river authorities to tear down his childhood home and only source of his ineffectual father´s livelihood - he clings to McConaughay, who expertly exudes supernatural virility and charisma in the best performance of his career.

We are treated twice to the same close-up, sustained shot of Ellis riding the back of his father´s pick up truck, as the sterile stripmallscape rolls away endlessly on both sides - nothing’s changed, except him. Mud is an uncommonly well-told, coming-of-age tale of renewed faith in human relationships, from the savagely pure perspective of a child who refuses to conform to social mores, to accept disillusionment, and mold himself into a ”townie.” It is also Jeff Nichols’ salute to a carelessly lush, backwoods lifestyle and piece of bona-fide freedom that, like many Deep Southern myths, are rapidly disappearing.

Despite the success of Mike Birbiglia’s undoubtledly hilarious, autobiographically-based one-man show and Off-Broadway hit, when translated into cinematic terms, Sleepwalk With Me’s jokes fall surprisingly flat. Lacking the compelling onscreen presence and emotional resonance of other comedians-turned-filmmakers like Woody Allen, it becomes increasingly difficult to empathise, much less laugh, at the life-threatening sleepwalking streaks of a confused, upper-middle class white man in his thirties who stubbornly refuses the medical help urged by his father, who still gives him money, and his wonderfully patient girlfriend Abbey (Lauren Ambrose). Birbiglia rewards their belief in him by cheating with an underage cocktail waitress and racking up an insane amount of mileage on his father´s rental car account, in pursuit of his pipe dream: to become the comic host to every lost, dreary midwestern town of America. Still, what is life if not a learning process? Birbiglia’s self-exposure may not be pretty, but at least it’s without pretension and regret. Also worth noting in Sleepwalk With Me are dazzling cameo performances by Carol Kane (Annie Hall, Dog Day Afternoon) and the ever-refreshingly sardonic Alex Karpovsky, from HBO series ”Girls.”

Undergoing a similiar existential crisis is Carter (Adam Scott) in A.C.O.D. (”Adult Child Of Divorce). Despite being a member of the ”least parented, least nurtured generation ever,” he manages a meticulously crafted life which should be normal, but somehow isn’t. After a childhood spent mediating feuds between an indomitable mother (Catherine O Hara) and philandering father (Steven Jenkins), Carter still plays the authority figure to his happy-go-lucky younger brother, Trey, and his trendy restaurant staff----which he admits is like another family, because he can fire the members he doesn’t like. But the balance of Carter’s identity is thrown into disarray when Trey spontaneously decides to get married, and their parents follow irrational suit, outrageously starting a secret affair with each other after fifteen bitter years of  divorce.  Putting the fun back into crazy, they justify sneaking behind the backs of their current partners and stepchildren with a breezy ”the heart wants ” attitude. As limitations between ”wrong” and ”right, ” ”love” and ”hate” grow blurred and uncertain, control turns out to be a illusion: Carter loses the restaurant, cruelly transformed into a Dunkin Donuts (by his stepmother, the original owner), and goes back into therapy, only to find himself drifting alarmingly away from his picture-perfect girlfriend, and towards a fellow A.C.O.D victim (Jessica Alba).

No easy conclusions are mined from Stuart Zicherman’s vision of this delightfully dysfunctional family drama, cast with idiosyncratic characters who blurt out nonsequiters like, ”A lot of people like coke.” Its only appropriate that A.C.O.D leaves us on a note of beautiful uncertainty, as Carter, Trey, and their father, in matching tuxes, pause before entering a church. As the doors close on them, A.C.O.D. ends with Carter darting one last nervous glance outside; it remains unclear who is getting (re)married, and it doesn’t really matter. What does, is that they belong to the same tribe, that life goes on.

Read the Best of Sundance London Parts One and Two