Sundance 2020 Wrapped Up
As this year’s Sundance Film Festival comes to an end today, here’s the films that were presented to keep your eye out for.
The 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah rode the wave of cultural change, and while it didn’t net a clear breakout film, the inclusion of more female directors was particularly significant. This year welcomed 46 percent of female directed or co-directed films from festival favorites and emerging talent including Miranda July, Janicza Bravo, Dee Rees, Josephine Decker, Radha Blank, and Emerald Fennell. These films were also some of the most buzzed about during the festival and the content cut through the politics.
Here is a preview of the movies you should have on your radar coming soon to a theater or streaming service near you.
Kijillionaire directed by Miranda July
Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, and Richard Jenkins
July’s first film in nearly a decade was a real anomaly. Halfway through, I realized this dark comedy about a family of small-time crooks in LA committing frauds to pay their rent is actually about a much bigger theme. July wants to explore family, both blood and chosen, as well as ideas of belonging and acceptance amongst the lonely streets of the city. The central plot revolves around the daughter, Old Dolio and her emotionally stunted parents (Winger and Jenkins), showing her life possibilities open up with the casual meeting of a stranger on a plane (Gina Rodriguez). The film carries July’s signature balance of naturalism and surrealism, but it’s definitely her most satisfyingly plot-driven script and the humanity she reveals in this odd bunch will stay with you.
Promising Young Women directed by Emerald Fennell
Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Jennifer Coolidge, and Laverne Cox
For the soundtrack alone, which includes the modern pop of Charli XCX, Sky Ferreira, an orchestral version of Toxic by Brittany Spears, and most notably Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind,” this film should be on your must-see list when it hits theaters this Spring. Carey Mulligan delivers one of the best performances of her celebrated career and a fitting return to Sundance after we first met her in the breakthrough film, An Education. The surprise dark comedy revolves around Cassie (Mulligan), a medical school drop out. She’s now moved back in with her parents and works in a coffee shop, but her nightlife is far more interesting. Taking revenge against the “nice guys” at bars, she pretends to be too drunk to stand and when they inevitably take advantage of her, she snaps back into reality. Her motivation becomes clear as the film progresses and builds to a shocking finale. Fennell, who writes and is an executive producer for Killing Eve, has crafted a fearless and unsentimental film that feels like a fresh take on the dynamics between females and their predators.
The Nest directed by Sean Durkin
Starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon
Okay, I’m going to be honest. I had no idea what this ’80s English family drama was actually about. An American family (apart from its patriarch played by Jude Law) move into an oversized, creepy Surrey mansion. I want to say it’s a character study of the lengths a grown man goes to escape his troubled childhood by pretending to be someone else, but it’s not that simple. Law’s wife (Coon) is unsatisfied and she has no problem expressing it. Perhaps the greatest moment is her scene in a nightclub with choreography that rivals Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name. The film was one of the most anticipated of the festival as the follow up to Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, which shares The Nest’s stylish and subdued cues and an equally unsettling tone. This time, the threat isn’t a cult, but childhood scars that are shown to be possibly repeated in the couple’s two children. The film also packs hits from The Cure, Thompson Twins, and Psychedelic Furs. I’m not sure this will be received as well as his debut, but Durkin has created something fascinating and Law and Coon expertly throw themselves into the acid dialogue and “greed is good” styling of the era.
Zola directed by Janicza Bravo
Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, and Colman Dimingo
“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this here bitch fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Aziah “ZOLA” King posted those first words of a 148-Twitter thread back in 2015. Captivating fans online with its stranger than fiction saga, the story reveals how two acquaintances, Zola (Paige) and Stefani (Keough), meet at a local diner and take a road trip to Florida to dance at the strip clubs where the girls expect to make a killing. What unfolds is more than what the characters have in store as they become entangled in prostitution, murder, and attempted suicide. The film establishes a Spring Breakers-esque tone from the onset but only a few years later, the culture is one of the internet and the language is perfectly adapted to the screen. Bravo co-wrote the film with playwright Jeremy O’Harris and assisted on a score by Mica Levi. The film is elevated from being just a dramatic retelling of untrustworthy narrators, but underneath the road trip shenanigans, a more relatable story about how we speak and relate to each other in the internet era.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman
Starring Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, and Theodore Pellerin
This kitchen sink coming of age drama is the follow up to Hittman’s Coney Island set Beach Rats, which also deals with a young teen coming into their sexuality. Taking the action into Manhattan this time, the film is about a teenage girl (Flanigan) seeking an abortion. She’s forced to take agency into her own hands as her home of Pittsburgh requires a parent’s compliance with her decision. With no other choice but to brave the city to accomplish her mission, she drags her friend and cousin (Ryder) for a broke 48 hours in uncharted territory. The film keeps it’s somber tone in check and gets its title from the nurse at Planned Parenthood who asks Maddie certain sexual questions, where she has to qualify in those four terms. The secondary plot revolves around her cousin meeting a cute boy on the bus (Pellerin) who just wants to party, completely unaware of the purpose of their trip. The genius of Hittman is how well she creates a whole world for her characters using just costume and makeup. This is a star making performance from Flanigan and a very topical bookend to Hittman’s youth trilogy.