A Report From the 2022 Sundance Film Festival
Since its inception in 1978, the Sundance Film Festival has been the harbinger for new work from American and international independent filmmakers. Names such as Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, and Darren Aronofsky received their big break at the famed festival. There are also notable films of Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, Whiplash, and American Psycho that achieved cult status after their premieres.
Unfortunately, the festival had to continue operating in a virtual-only setting due to the danger of COVID-19. But with this circumstance comes a silver lining, as it opens the possibility of discovery to anyone in the country, and not just the select few that can make the trek to Park City.
Below is a report of the seven films I was able to see over the week-long festival.
Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul (2.5/5)
Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall star as megachurch royalty in this scathing mockumentary. After allegations topple their religious empire, the two desperately try to get back on top at any means necessary. Despite writer/director Adamma Ebo’s message being one of importance, it’s not original as it retreads many points that are common knowledge at this point, especially with the equally average satire The Eyes of Tammy Faye released just six months ago.
Call Jane (2.5/5)
Carol writer Phyllis Nagy steps into the director’s chair for the first time, and the results are mixed at best. Her film tells the true story of an underground abortion ring in 1960s Chicago that tried to help women in need, even though their actions are illegal. Nagy adeptly showcases the danger with some great scenes of tension. But she has trouble balancing tones and isn’t able to string everything together into a cohesive experience.
The most unhinged film of the festival, Rebecca Hall shines in Andrew Semans’ demented tale of gaslighting and trauma. Hall plays a successful pharmaceutical executive whose perfect life crumbles with the return of her past abuser (played assuredly by Tim Roth). There’s more under the surface than Semans lets on, with the film earning an A for effort by committing to its often ludicrous concept.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (3.5/5)
Sundance is famous for its bevy of quirky coming-of-age comedies. Last year’s breakout was CODA, and the years before that were Boyhood and Eighth Grade. This year is 23-year-old Cooper Raiff’s second feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth. Raiff stars as Andrew, who recently graduated college not knowing what he’s going to do with his life. Working the odd job of a bar mitzvah party starter, he meets and strikes a close relationship with a young mother and her autistic daughter. This is the crowd-pleaser of the year, with lots of heart and comedy to go around.
One of two abortion dramas at the festival, which had already world premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the fall, winning the first place Golden Lion. Audrey Diwan looks back at a young woman’s experience with abortion when it was still illegal in 1960s France. It’s difficult to watch at times, with Diwan leaving the viewer out in the cold just as much as the main character. But through that struggle, you come out the other side with a more personal understanding of an issue that half the population seems to neglect.
Karen Gillan (who plays Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) stars in this dark comedy that takes inspiration from the deadpan style of Yorgos Lanthimos. Gillan plays Sarah, a terminally ill loser who clones herself to spare her loved ones from grief. Miraculously, Sarah survives. But the laws in this timeline dictate that a human and a clone cannot exist at the same time, so they must fight to the death to decide who assumes that identity. Writer/director Riley Stearns adds a cynical touch to his answer on what it means to be human, complete with some hilarious oddball moments.
After Yang (4/5)
After Yang is full of grace and compassion, with a touch of melancholy to make it a truly reflective experience of the human soul. It merges American sci-fi with the softer side of independent cinema, which makes it a perfect project to be under the A24 umbrella. Writer/director Kogonada makes use of precise visuals that synchronize with the gentle storytelling. It's a highwire act of filmmaking made to look remarkably simple, yet full of complexion underneath.