Monday, January 19, 2009

Sundance 2009: A Good Year?

[Film Fest] By Monday every year, just like clockwork, the consensus is already beginning to develop: Is this year a good year or a bad year for Sundance films?

And sure, it’s an arbitrary and completely subjective evaluation. All I can say is, I have yet to walk out of anything in disgust. That, for me, marks a better year than average.

It helps as well, of course, to have a few things to rave about. Sometimes they’re the things everyone seems to be raving about; I’ve yet to encounter too many people who don’t love Humpday. But occasionally I get to go out on a limb for something that either hasn’t been widely seen, or hasn’t been widely loved.

From the Spectrum category comes 2009’s first out-of-nowhere find for me: The Vicious Kind. Writer/director Lee Toland Krieger’s drama sets up a distinctive dysfunctional-family scenario from that time-honored backdrop of the Thanksgiving weekend gathering. Caleb (Adam Scott) still lives in the same small Connecticut town as the dad (J. K. Simmons) he hasn’t spoken to in eight years. He’s done his younger brother Peter (Alex Frost) the favor of driving him home from college, along with Peter’s new girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow). But Caleb’s got more demons than we can count, and the relationships between these four people are more complicated than it’s possible to guess.

And that’s where I knew Krieger was on to something: Every time I was sure I knew where the characters were headed, and why, I was proved wrong. Caleb’s an odd conglomeration of emotional drama, but Scott’s performance somehow brings this mess of a guy together. Every interaction strikes just the right tone, and even the minor supporting characters feel completely lived in. That, too, can be a marker of a better year than average—pleasant surprises from unlikely places. (Scott Renshaw)

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