Sundance Film Festival

Hey, Sundance! Revolt against REVOLT, get the MESSAGE?

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The Sundance Film Festival is entering the home stretch, and the press coming from Park City details not only the hit movies, but also the state of the state of indie film (it’s that time of year to evaluate your union, comrades). Your correspondent from the mid-West — or really Appalachia, as we say around here in Southeast Ohio — is far, far, far from Park City, but has seen two films recently that prompted reflection on indies and Sundance, Miguel Arteta’s YOUTH IN REVOLT and Oren Moverman’s THE MESSENGER.

Okay, here’s the deal. Miguel Arteta has sold out. What is this, YOUTH IN REVOLT? If I have to watch another boy coming of age with at least two of these elements: an Apatow-lite potty mouth, a nervous tic, ironic humor, a brain filled with to the brim with erudite cultural references, or an obsessive crush on a poorly-written girl character, I’m gonna barf. (Check RUSHMORE, THUMB SUCKER, SON OF RAMBO, ROCKET SCIENCE.) Easy, Howell – apparently the REVOLT book is quite good, and it is difficult to write a worthy adaptation, but Miguel should know better. He rocked my world with both CHUCK AND BUCK and THE GOOD GIRL – interesting, vividly imaginative stories with nary a cliché in sight … but this time … well, I guess everybody gotta get paid. Not that Bob and Harvey’s Dimension Films is indie, but the film certainly presents itself as no less than a true ‘art-house’ experience. Let’s call this film the ‘old Sundance.’

THE MESSENGER, on the other hand, is what I’m hoping the ‘new Sundance’ really, truly becomes. (Okay, the film premiered at Sundance 09 but it’s still a great model.) The festival has heralded 2010 as its return to fore-fronting more of the micro-budget, fewer-celebrity films, with both the introduction of the NEXT section and the dismantling of the ‘bigger’ opening night film, amongst other changes. THE MESSENGER is a great example of the terrain where the festival might continue to head. The film is unusual in its structure – framed by a series of visits to families of recent war casualties – and it’s really a road movie organized by themes. Each theme has a relevant, loosely organized chapter, framed by a visit – and this keeps us interested as characters reveal their true natures, depths, and emotions within this mechanism. The lead, Ben Foster, is familiar enough to have instant credibility, but unfamiliar enough to allow us to believe that he really is, in fact, protagonist Will Montgomery. Add wonderful actors Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton (physically transformed) and Jena Malone, amongst many others – and you have a perfect elixir – unusual, effective storytelling within a small, unique scenario. Enough ‘name’ actors to get you in the door, but new faces that surprise and intrigue. Add that combination to micro-budget movies with even more new faces, and Sundance will be on its way. THE MESSENGER is still in theatres in select cities, including Athens, Ohio (until Friday) – so OU students get out there and see it! Otherwise the DVD is always ‘coming soon….’

The trailer is here:

–AH