Other People: **** 1/2
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: *****
Operation Avalanche: ****
Article first published on Blogcritics.
Thankfully, not everything that plays the Sundance Film Festival is soaked in drama. Plenty of comedies can whet our appetite — even if some of them can’t help but keep the dramatic flare. There are also those that hold the potential to be watched through “Sundance Goggles,” meaning sometimes when watched after their festival run, they just don’t hold up. I don’t think any of these will fall victim to that this year.
Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou keep the gags flying at a rapid pace and even throw in some gallows humor. The Lobster is a fantastic dark comedy, something we don’t see as often as we used to. It almost feels like it could have originally been a Monty Python bit, but Lanthimos never breaks his own rules. Some may be put off by the ambiguous ending — just remember the opening scene of the film and you should be able to put the pieces together. It’s not as strange as you might think. Bound to play art houses stateside, it’s worth checking out if it happens to be playing nearby.
While some may not appreciate the film careening from hilarity to saccharin at the drop of a hat, that’s life. Kelly brings his comic sensibilities from the small screen (Saturday Night Live, Broad City) to the big screen in a fantastic debut. Shannon may steal the show as we slowly watch her slip away over the course of a year, but Plemons plays off her beautifully — showing a real mother/son relationship as he watches his best friend wither away. Packed full of laughs and tears, Other People will go down as one of the year’s best dramedies, and could even earn Shannon at least a Golden Globe nomination next year, if not maybe an Oscar nom. She’s come a long way from SNL and just keeps getting better.
What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi makes another stellar solo outing that fits more in line with his first two Sundance films Boy and Eagle vs Shark. Quirky, heartfelt, hilarious, visually grand, and a just plain joy to watch, this will stand as not just one of the festival’s best films, but as one of the year’s best as well.
Julian Dennison makes an auspicious debut as Ricky — a real bad egg — who keeps getting shuffled around from home to home, finally landing in the care of Bella (Rima Te Wiata). At first he’s not so fond of living so far out in the bush, but soon learns to love it, even while dealing with the curmudgeonly Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). After Bella dies, Ricky decides he’s running away from it all and Uncle Hec heads out to look for him. After Hec fractures his ankle, a manhunt ensues after the local authorities think that Hec may have taken Ricky out into the wildlands to get rid of him.
The cast all work splendidly together creating real rapport. It certainly helps that Waititi has crafted such a fantastic screenplay giving everyone plenty of chances to bowl you over with laughter. Not to give anything anyway, but there are at least two films playing the festival this year with a dog winding up dead and only this one will manage to make you actually cry about it. Waititi even gets his own chance to shine as a hilarious priest. Considering Waititi’s films just keep getting better, I can only imagine the stamp he’s going to make on the third Thor film. Ragnarok can’t come fast enough at this point. Keep your eyes peeled for this one as it’s bound to find its way to a theater sooner rather than later.
Thankfully, Johnson — along with co-writer/co-star Josh Boles — give us another inconclusive ending, but treat us to one that actually works. The laughs and thrills are paced to a fantastic conclusion and there is plenty to love along the way. With a cast of characters engaging enough to make the story work, it even keeps you guessing right up to the last shot. Johnson was on hand after the screening for a lively Q&A where he explained how they managed to shoot the film on a minuscule budget inside NASA itself by basically lying through their teeth and getting the most out of 20 minute windows. Operation Avalanche has already been picked up by Lionsgate but doesn’t have a release date announced yet. Hopefully the film finds its audience when it finally goes wide, and I have no doubt it will. Smart and fun mockumentaries are hard to come by so make sure you give the attention it deserves when it finally hits theaters.
Photos courtesy Sundance Institute