This year’s lineup has it all: a vegetarian-turned-cannibal, a cam whore, a chubby white rapper and an Instagram celebrity
Sundance Film Festival starts today. It persistently has the coolest selection of any film festival. Although less glam than the commercial red carpet tailspin of Cannes, Sundance asserts its genius by curating a slate jam-packed with all the best up-and-comers in film. This year is one of the best lineups in recent memory, with documentaries about Japanese stans, dramas about white rappers straight outta Jersey, and a blood-curdling cannibalism thrill ride. Bookmark this list, because these films will likely be released later this year in a handful of cities, then turn up on Netflix next year when you’ll conveniently be able to revisit Sundance 2017’s biggest breakouts.
Like American Honey (2016) meets Stranger at the Lake (2013), Beach Rats is about coping with teen misery the best way bummed out teen Frankie knows how: by chatting up older men online. Dealing with a stifling and glum Brooklyn summer by “camming” online, Frankie heads to a cruising beach to solve his problems. There, he begins hooking up with older men, while also harbouring a crush for a younger woman. Director Eliza Hittman, who tackled teen promiscuity in 2013’s It Felt Like Love, is again handing out hard-ons with a tale of self-exploration on the bleached sands of a cruising hotspot.
INGRID GOES WEST
The other day I deleted my Instagram. I felt like it was a leech on my time, like I was volunteering at Instagram’s soup kitchen, doling out likes to mediocre photos for no reason. Matt Spicer’s film Ingrid Goes West cashes in on our obsession with double-tapping by creating an absurd comedy about a social media starlet and the girl who idolises her seemingly perfect lifestyle. Spicer’s sister is a YouTuber, which could be where some of his intelligence was gathered. Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) moves to LA in pursuit of becoming close to Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s got a checklist of things that somehow translate to superficial popularity: a hot artist boyfriend, a cute dog, and gifted products to shill to her sheeple. This story seems eerily close to the real-life breakdown of Australian Insta-star Essena O’Neill.
I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE.
If movies that have characters named Donkey Dick are your thing, then have a seat for I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. It’s the directorial debut of Macon Blair, who cinephiles may remember as the cleaver-wielding murderer from 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin. That guy is now directing, and his first story for screens is about a depressed nursing assistant, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), who returns home from a shift to some bad news. Dog shit on the lawn, her house looted by thieves, her laptop gone. Ruth thinks the police are a bit hinky, so decides to strike up her own investigation. It’s not long before Ruth is knee-deep in a criminal underworld she knows nothing about.
Off the back of directing music videos for the likes of Florence + The Machine and Selena Gomez, director Geremy Jasper has made a film whose name could be a Die Antwoord bonus track. Patti Cake$ charts the rise and rise of Patricia “Killa P” Dombrowski, a fledgling young white rapper from New Jersey who spits rhymes in an attempt to escape her own poverty. She bounces from strip malls to strip clubs, hoping to scrape together enough cash to help pay her nana’s medical bills and fund her mum’s drinking habit. Despite haters at every turn, Patti Cake$ and her collaborator Jheri land upon a goth metal maestro aptly named Basterd, who may just be the key to Patti’s unwitting success as a member of hip hop’s new guard. The only downside is this film is unfortunately not a documentary.
From the hilarious filmmaker that brought you abortion comedy Obvious Child (2014) comes Landline, which was written, produced and directed by Gillian Robespierre. Older daughter Dana is on the verge of tying the knot with her beau, but the idea of settling down gives her anxiety. It leads her to go a bit wild, much like her younger sister, Ali, who has hidden her sexcapades and rampant clubbing from her parents. When the pair discover some saucy letters her dad has written for someone other than their mum, they try to uncover the truth without their mum finding out.
Documentary Tokyo Idols offers a unique look at the rampant and sometimes sexist fan culture in Japan. As we meet Ri Ri, an aspiring pop star, we also get to know her “brothers” – a name given to the super fans who have literally quit their jobs to full-time stan for Ri Ri. They track her every movement, essentially aiding in her transformation from human being to covetable commodity. It’s almost as if Satoshi Kon’s animated Perfect Blue (1997), about a pop singer who can’t shake an obsessive stalker, has come to life in this eye-opening documentary about the widening gulf between celebrities and their fans. It also shines a karaoke spotlight on the worrisome interactions between maladroit men and women.
PERSON TO PERSON
Tavi Gevinson has ramped up her acting efforts with a cameo in Scream Queens and last year’s Goldbricks in Bloom, about young creatives not getting the validation they apparently need. She continues to make smart picks, teaming up with seriously talented director Dustin Guy Defa for Person to Person. This effort isn’t an easy sell: it follows a mix of New Yorkers over the course of one day. One is an obsessive record collector, another is an investigative reporter tackling her first day on the job. There is also a murder mystery. Tavi reteams with Michael Cera, after they acted together off Broadway in This Is Our Youth.
Remember that 2011 movie with Anton Yelchin, Like Crazy? The one about a college-age couple torn apart by visa problems, starring Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence? The writer of that film has teamed with Equals director Drake Doremus for a pseudo parable of the social media age. Its poster is literally a boyfriend-girlfriend on separate sides of the bed, staring into the dull glow of their mobiles instead of each other’s deep, abundant eyes. Sad. But what rings true is how this film deals with love in the age of dating apps. Newness is billed as a study of millennials swiping right and the ease with which they fall in and out of love.
If you’re going to do a film about a kid tempted into gang life, then do it right, like first-time director Amman Abbasi has with Dayveon. Local gangs consulted on the script to give it that injection of realism. Growing up in the bucolic surrounds of Little Rock, Arkansas, 13-year-old Dayveon has no parents, and his brother has just been shot and killed. The film spans three days in Dayveon’s life as he grapples with his brother’s death while falling in with a gang and being pulled closer to family by his sister’s boyfriend, who becomes an unlikely father figure. Think Moonlight (2016) meets Morris from America (2016).
Something is up with cannibals on screen. Last year’s entry was Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon. Netflix is queuing up Santa Clarita Diet, starring Drew Barrymore as a limb-hungry maneater, and now Raw, whose trailer is low-key disturbing. The premise is vegetarian nightmare fuel: 16-year-old veg Justine enters vet school and undergoes a hazing ritual wherein she must eat a raw rabbit liver, spurring on a lust for meat. Not just animal meat – human, too. With her craving comes a newfound sexual desire. Puberty looks to be rough for Justine, newly minted cannibal and horn dog. Bring that one friend who won’t shut up about her kale chip recipe.