Emma Thompson in Late Night (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Emily Aragones)
Late Night Emma Thompson plays a veteran late-night talk show host in this broadly appealing comedy—think The Devil Wears Prada meets The Mindy Project—written by Mindy Kaling and helmed by Transparent director Nisha Ganatra. Kaling also stars as Molly, a comically earnest aspiring writer and zealous comedy fan who scores a job in the show’s midtown writer’s room, which until then had been comprised of only white men. The movie is based around an array of hot-button topics: sexism, representation, workplace dynamics. But the story never gets heavy. It’s fizzy and bright, existing in a kind of exaggerated rom-com reality where women are less interested in love affairs than career drive. It was nabbed by Amazon for $13 million.
Jillian Bell in Brittany Runs A Marathon (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Jon Pack)
At the Sundance Film Festival, you expect to see artful indies and quirky dramas — the next Little Miss Sunshine or Mudbound or Precious. What you’re less expecting is a broadly accessible comedy in the vein of Trainwreck or I Feel Pretty, the kind of unabashedly populist laugh-out-loud entertainment you would feel perfectly fine recommending to both your midwestern grandma and your Brooklyn bartender. And yet, that’s exactly what this year’s Sundance has delivered in the sweet, sincere Brittany Runs a Marathon, which stars funny lady Jillian Bell as a 27-year-old hot mess New Yorker who decides to get her life in order.
Rachel Weisz and Michael Sheen. (Photos: Natalia Winkelman)
The Gotham Awards arrive at a critical moment in awards season. Predating and presaging all of the major awards, they give us a clue into which indies are on everyone’s radar. But more importantly, the ceremony highlights a slew of worthy titles that have less of a chance of making it into the Academy race. While the biggest news from last night’s ceremony came at the end — the surprise Best Feature winner — the ceremony included many newsworthy nuggets. Here are a few of the best moments.
Lots of television shows mythologize New York City. But few succeed in depicting the city’s magnetism and allure as precisely as Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, adapted from her 2016 debut novel of the same name. Premiering last Sunday on Starz, the new series centers around Tess (Ella Purnell), a 22-year-old small town transplant pursuing a job as a waitress at a high-end Manhattan restaurant in 2006. Though the story is fiction, Danler — who is the series creator, writer, and executive producer — based it on her own experiences as a recent college grad navigating New York’s high cuisine scene. Nowadays, Danler spends the majority of her time in Los Angeles, but she still has a soft spot for the city — even during summer weeks like this one, when a stroll down the block can feel like “swimming in a thick soup.”
Bedford + Bowery chatted with Danler on the phone this week after the Sweetbitter premiere last Sunday. We talked city life, oysters, and how she can tell which of the season’s six episodes were directed by women.
When Susanna Nicchiarelli made up her mind to take on the story of Christa Päffgen, better known by her stage name Nico, she wasn’t interested in depicting all yesterday’s parties. Best known for her psychedelic heyday as a Chelsea Girl and Velvet Underground muse, Nico lived out her later, tamer days as a solo musician in Europe. This is the era captured in Nico, 1988, which, according to Nicchiarelli, is structured more like a vinyl album than a conventional biopic.
(l to r.) Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron in Jason Reitman’s Tully. (Courtesy of Focus Features)
Eleven years after his zany teen pregnancy screwball — a little film called Juno — Jason Reitman is back with a new kind of motherhood comedy. Tully may be less indie-music-infused than its Ellen Page-starring forerunner, but don’t be fooled: this isn’t one of those broad parenting comedies like Mr. Mom, although Reitman wouldn’t be mad if it was.
The crème de la crème of contemporary French film is headed our way. Presented by Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance, the 23rd edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema will run from March 8 to 18 at Film Society, featuring a vibrant, female-centric lineup. Opening with the U.S. premiere of Mathieu Amalric’s Barbara, this year’s series boasts a diverse slate of narrative and documentary features, Q&A’s, and free panels. We’re premiering the trailer for you, above.
Among the 24 films making their North American, U.S., or New York debut at Rendez-Vous are favorites from international festivals including Cannes, Toronto, and Venice, helmed both by established masters and new talents. This year’s programming especially foregrounds the strength and creativity of women, featuring works from seven female directors and a slew of stories with women at the center –– from a coming of age tale about a teenage girl going blind (Léa Mysius’s Ava) to an intimate and imaginative mother-daughter portrait (Noémie Lvovsky’s Tomorrow and Thereafter).
Additional highlights include C’est la vie!, a wedding comedy from Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano (The Intouchables). Albert Dupontel’s Jazz Age crime epic See You Up There;Hubert Charuel’s dairy farm thriller Petit Paysan; and Tonie Marshall’s feminist corporate drama Number One; as well as Film Comment presentations of Eugene Green’s magic-laden Waiting for the Barbarians and Laurent Cantent’s cerebral social thriller The Workshop. You can peruse the full slate here. There’s even a heavy metal rendering of Joan of Arc’s early life, courtesy of Bruno Dumont’s Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc– a respectable alternative if you haven’t managed to score tickets to David Byrne’s musical take on the French heroine.
And for all you aspiring under-40 critics, a special $40 pass is available which includes all-day March 12th screening access, a partial Film Society membership, and a bottle of champagne to boot. Bon appétit.
A film still from Skate Kitchen by Crystal Moselle. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Ryan Parilla)
Crystal Moselle won the grand jury prize at Sundance in 2015 for her shocking, Lower East Side-set documentary The Wolfpack. Skate Kitchen finds Moselle moving into the narrative space with another study of New York City misfits: an all-girl skateboarding crew. After she met the real-life skate squad on the subway, Moselle teamed up with the teenage women to develop a fictional story script surrounding their lives. The result is an immersive, dynamic coming of age centered around Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a Long Island native whose initiation into the Skate Kitchen gang launches a summer of downtown debauchery and newfound camaraderie. Critical Response: Variety says the “young women are mesmerizing to watch”; Hollywood Reporter says the script “often surprises, hinting at trauma that never arrives”; it’s “one of the more positive depictions of millennial community-building in recent cinema,” per IndieWire. Distributor: Seeking distribution
The opening scene of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the new Amazon show starring Rachel Brosnahan as a ’50s Upper West Side housewife turned downtown stand-up comedienne, finds Midge Maisel delivering a giddy, champagne-tipsy toast at her own wedding. We soon learn that lack of inhibition is one of Midge’s defining traits, along with a talent for cooking brisket and a motormouth with a witty bite.
Obama during a meeting with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in New York, September 2014. From left: Ben Rhodes, Samantha Power, and John Kerry. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Watching The Final Year is a little bit like time traveling. The film, which opened the DOC NYC Film Festival last night, charts the last year of the Obama administration, following the president and his foreign policy team, including then-Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, as they navigate their final projects in office. The film was accorded the honor of opening this year’s DOC NYC, which runs through Nov. 16.
Mudbound burst onto the film scene during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered to near universal acclaim for its nuanced depiction of race relations and familial bonds in post-World War II Mississippi. Its Sundance premiere fell on January 21, the day after President Trump’s inauguration. The timeliness was difficult to ignore.
Brooklyn-bred director Dee Rees touched on the disturbing resonance of the film’s themes during a New York Film Festival press conference on Thursday. “I hope that people take away the fact that we can’t begin to tackle our collective history until we interrogate our own personal histories,” she said. “It’s not just about race––it’s about what ideas we’ve inherited, what attitudes we’ve inherited, and what we’re unconsciously passing on.”
The idea of inheritance is central to Mudbound, which hinges on the dynamics of two families––one black, one white––living on a farm in the American south. The film achieves a rare intimacy with each character in its starry ensemble cast, delving into the psyche and sensibility of each through private moments and voiceover of inner thoughts. Rees deftly delineates parallels between various members of the families, including the two solicitous mothers (played by Carey Mulligan and Mary J. Blige) and the two shellshocked sons coming home from war abroad (Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund).
“This could’ve been a movie just about two soldiers returning from war, or this could’ve been a movie just about this family trying to better themselves,” Rees said. Instead, “the multiplicity of voices and different points of view” was what drew her to the labyrinthine epic. By according each character his or her own voice and story, the film operates as an enormous empathy machine, compelling the audience to penetrate the minds and moods of an array of diversely flawed characters. The technique feels especially powerful when set against a period of palpable racial animosity.
There is also a notably classical style to the filmmaking, engendered by gorgeous imagery and an epic narrative breadth. The bleak, muddy landscape becomes a motif that unites the characters in a common feeling of futility and isolation. When asked if she would categorize the film in a tradition of melodrama, Rees responded: “I just saw it as good American cinema. I wanted this to be an old-fashioned film. I wanted this to be a film like they don’t make anymore.” Addressing the film’s 134-minute runtime, Rees added, “I wanted to break out of the 90 minute artificial construct and just really let the voices ring out, let the story live.”
Rees’s debut film Pariah, which premiered to acclaim and a Cinematography award at Sundance in 2011, is an autobiographical rendering of Rees’s own experience growing up as a gay black teen in Brooklyn. Though Mudbound unfolds 70 years earlier and on a much larger scale than Pariah, both films demonstrate a profound perspicacity in dealing with splintering relationships and personal struggle.
Taking the empathy of Mudbound as a guide, the best way to move forward, Rees says, is by examining and confronting our own personal histories. “Each of our lives is a single thread, and we’re all weaving the same thing,” Rees said, speaking to the tattered racial tapestry that Mudbound illuminates. “We’re all connected to what happened before. We’re not separate from our past. We’re all actors in the present––we are not passively watching it. We’re all actors in what we’re creating.”
When describing her directorial debut, Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig turns to pop music: “It’s a pop song that’s really fun to sing along to––a really great upbeat song––and then you hear it covered by someone else, slowed down, and all of a sudden you can hear the lyrics and you think, ‘Oh no, that song’s tragic.’” As creative, intuitive, and vibrant as its writer-director, Gerwig’s film stars Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous Lady Bird, a restless high school senior eager to break out of her suffocating Sacramento hometown. But the film’s beating heart belongs to Laurie Metcalf, who plays Lady Bird’s aching, outwardly reproachful mother wrestling with how to say goodbye.