SXSW Recap: Day 5

Because I had to spend my morning waiting on a press roundtable with actor Elijah Wood and director Nacho Vigalondo – terrible life, mine – to discuss their latest collaboration Open Windows, and, full disclosure, my tummy was rumbling for some good ol’ fashioned Austin barbecue, I only attended two events.

Into the void we go…

One of the best things about film festivals is the afforded opportunity to experience rising talent in short form. I attended the block of Texas Shorts and enjoyed some of the best films I have seen at the festival.  Easy (dir. Daniel Laabs) will probably leave me with most to think about, beyond Boyhood – which just won’t LEAVE me — from the entire festival. Described as “a character study about the relationship between two brothers,” Easy is so much more than that. A poignant look at identity, family, and budding romance, this haunting peak at the day in the life of teenagers – one entering and one leaving – highlights those internal struggles without complicated exposition or the dramatic images of drug use or violence we are so used to seeing in film when tied to these ideas. Director Laabs’ stylistic voice is notable and true, providing a moving soundtrack and an effortless edit; Easy is much more a moving experience than a film. Coupled with the tremendous talent of cinematographer Bret Curry, the film is a can’t miss. I Was a Teenage Girl (dir. Augustine Frizzell) flies by in mere moments, but the viewer can expect to be carrying it for a while. What might appear as a deep conversation with two friends, entirely set in one room, with little movement from the actors, holds great weight. Reflecting on a life-long friendship, two girls discover they have much more in common than they ever believed.  I had become a bit weary of the male version of the “coming-of-age” tale, as it seems to be the predominant theme at SXSW this year. So, much to my delight, although brief, we got to spend a little time examining some of the most difficult moments in the life of a young woman. Bravo, to director Frizzell’s unique voice! The whole block was strong with films like Horton Foote-penned One Armed Man and Grand Jury paper/photo animated winner Some Vacation, but my favorite little film was probably Toby Halbrook’s DIG featuring Jonny Mars and Augustine Frizzell – this time flexing her acting chops. A young girl watches her father dig a hole in the backyard; mysterious, at times laugh-out-loud hilarious, the button to the film’s ending was my pick for best of the fest. The cast is superb, particularly Mars who carries a kind of smoldering melancholy to all of his roles. GRADE: A for the block. Standouts: Dig, Easy, I Was a Teenage Girl

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Next up was former “Sex and the City” writer Liz Tuccillo’s directorial debut Take Care, a story about a woman who is hit by a car and, as she puts it, is “nobody’s priority.” Frannie (Leslie Bibb) is a thirty-something event coordinator who is laid up with a broken arm and leg and needs round the clock care. When all of her family and friends cannot make time for her, Frannie cons her ex-boyfriend Devon (Broadway favorite Thomas Sadoski) – whom she previously spent two years of her life nursing back to health from colon cancer —  into taking care of her. With a budget reportedly around the $200,000 range (according to IMDB), this film is a triumph of independent cinema. With its lightening-quick wit and interesting characters, this script is obviously penned by an accomplished writer. What is most impressive, however, is the performances Tuccillo is able to pull from her cast, particularly from Michael Stahl-David who plays pompous next-door neighbor Kyle. The chemistry between Bibb and Sadoski is palpable on the screen, and there is nary a false note in the dialogue or simple three-act structure. You know where the film is going halfway through, but it really doesn’t matter. The ride is so enjoyable, and while the destination is probably one you’ve seen before, the characters might just surprise you. The film does not leave Frannie’s apartment for nearly the whole first act, so when we do, it is a bit jarring; and some of the framing is derivative of first-time filmmakers who have yet to take chances, but most of this is harmless to the interesting characters and script.   GRADE: B. Enjoyable, sweet, funny. Bibb is a star…so someone should let people know.

 

 *** My day 6 (and last) recap will include the films Hellion, Ping Pong Summer, Only Lovers Left Alive, and We’ll Never Have Paris.

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