Great stars don't always make a good movie at Sundance
With nearly 200 films showing at the Sundance Film Festival, choosing what to see can be daunting. Most films do not have trailers and have not been shown previously. Festival attendees with no ties to the movie industry must rely on the 250-page catalog describing the movies, casts, and past accolades at Sundance. So I went for two movies with high wattage casts and a third that was hailed by while a leading critic as “the next Precious.” Just goes to show you can't always believe what you read.
I headed to the Park City Racquet Club, an all-purpose sports facility that becomes a 602-seat theater during Sundance and is the site of the awards party Saturday night, to see I am Love (lo sono amore), an Italian movie with English subtitles starring Tilda Swinton. I missed it at the Cinema Arts Festival Houston in November. It centers around an aristocratic Milan family who give elaborate dinner parties and live in a spectacular Italian villa (think an Italian Brothers & Sisters). Swinton is the Russian born matriarch of the family who falls for her son’s best friend, a chef, must deal with her son marrying a commoner, and her daughter announcing she is a lesbian.
It is a sensuous movie, spectacularly photographed in Milan and the surrounding mountainside, that has the lavish food presentation of Julie and Julia and matches the clothes in The Devil Wears Prada. (Swinton wears a lot of Jil Sander in the movie). It also reminded me of the 1992 British film Damages, where Jeremy Irons plays a British Lord who falls for his son’s girlfriend. The moral of these stories: Nothing good comes from a parent's affairs with their kids' friends Damages discovered this in 80 minutes, but I Am Love took a ponderous two hours.
I was ravenous afterwards, so my husband and I had lunch at the Yarrow Hotel (its ballroom serves as a movie theatre during Sundance). Many of the traveling press stay in the old, slightly tired hotel because of its central location. The food and service were dreadful but we enjoyed eavesdropping on the high-powered crowd around. We heard such snippets as, “Did you see John Legend perform? I think he does better at parties than concerts” and “Katie (meaning Holmes) was at Ruth Chris last night ." Everyone in the restaurant was very friendly, because at Sundance the slacker sitting next to you may be an LA powerbroker. You never know.
We headed to our next movie, 3 Backyards, at the Eccles theater, Sundance’s largest venue with a whopping 1,270 seats. While most directors want their films to run at the Eccles because of its size, moviegoers have mixed feelings. The Eccles has no inside standing room, so it is not a question of whether you will wait in the cold but how long.
Shivering in the cold-but sunny 28-degree weather, we tallied the number of pairs of Uggs and a stylish wool hats worn by the fashionable crowd. Holmes has been seen around Sundance in just that. Once inside the theater after a 30-minute wait, we were heartened when the senior director of programming introduced the film. “This is my favorite film of the festival,” he said.
But I knew I was in trouble when the movie started with a husband and wife staring at each other for 60 seconds without saying a word. While the cast (Edie Falco, Elias Koteas and Embeth Davidtz) is good, the plot is a snoozer. It centers around three suburban families: A couple who don’t communicate, a chatterbox amateur artist who is obsessed with an actress renting a nearby house and a child who happens upon a nefarious neighbor. And for no apparent reason, a strange looking French poodle meanders in and out of the film. The music was so loud and screechy several audience members covered their ears. Following most films at Sundance, viewers eagerly await a question-and-answer session with the director. Not this time. You would have thought a fire alarm sounded as the lights went up. We raced out of theater with the pack.
As we walked to the shuttle, we struck up a conversation with a film producer who had a movie at Sundance four years ago. I asked how it did. She shook her head sadly. "It was too happy,” she said. Sundance program directors favor sadder movies.
After the disaster of 3 Backyards, we went home to pump ourselves up for the 9.30 p.m .showing of The Romantics at the Eccles. Our wait in eight-degree temperatures was longer than usual because Robert Redford spoke at the prior screening. The Romantics centers on Laura (Katie Holmes), the maid of honor at the wedding of her former college roommate, Lila (Anna Paquin) and the love of her life, Tom (Josh Duhamel). Laura and Tom have never resolved their college love affair, Tom has second thoughts the night before the wedding, Lila realizes Tom is having second thoughts, their friends flirt with each other's partners and drink like fish.
This movie was beautifully shot on a working winery in Long Island. Holmes seems more engaged (pardon the pun) than she has since her marriage to Tom Cruise five years ago. While the movie is lightweight, implausible and predictable, I bet it will boost Holmes’ movie career. But it's the kind of movie I would have just as soon rented and watched at home. It didn't seem sad enough for a major independent film festival.
But the nice thing about Sundance is, if you've had a disappointing movie-watching day, there's always tomorrow.