Sundance London ’19 Review: ‘Animals’ is a Hazy, Mid-life ‘Coming-of-Age’

In a cinematic landscape that is currently experiencing a surge of teenage coming-of-age tales, Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) brings another side of the story: the ‘coming-of-age’ as you approach your thirties, a time where the evidence of your twenties is still present despite the looming decade brimmed with higher expectations and the fulfilment of cultural norms. With this offering, Hyde joins the likes of Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour, The Bisexual) in offering authentic and refreshing portrayals of the female millennial experience on screen.

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Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat in Animals (2019)

Based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name, Animals chronicles the antics of party-obsessed best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat). The two have been enjoying their fair share of debauchery in Dublin for more than a decade — as established by the well-worn friendship montage in the film’s opening. Despite the growing comments of dismay from their loved ones, Tyler is seemingly content with their midlife wanderings that refuse to conform to the conventions of the nuclear family, proclaiming (after asking Laura to observe the deafening muteness of the suburb) ‘it’s the non-sound of the suburb. They sell it to you as peace, but it’s death’. While Shawkat’s happy-go-lucky character does not necessarily steer too far away from comedic roles she has played in the past, the film’s milieu amps her unstoppable, and unapologetically American, energy.

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Sundance London ’19: ‘Ask Dr.Ruth’ is a Feature-Length Dedication to Everyone’s Favourite Sex Therapist

Known as the grandmother of sexual liberation, the minute figure of Dr. Ruth Westheimer is an anachronism amongst the mainstream American prudishness of the 1980s. She speaks with a forthright, scientific approach to sexual pleasure, bound to the philosophy that if something isn’t working in the bedroom (or in the living room, or on the kitchen table), then the problem should be remedied, rather than ignored. Even today, her distinctive image still rings as a delightful oddity. Imagine: your lovely gentle Granny telling an audience of millions that they need to utilise the clitoris to achieve orgasm. This is the scene that many envision when considering Dr. Ruth’s career – yet, as Ask Dr. Ruth admirably proves, there is so, so much more to this incredible woman than first meets the eye.

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Dr. Ruth Westheimer in Ask Dr. Ruth (2019) © Sundance Institute

The documentary begins with Dr. Ruth conversing with Alexa – yes, the Amazon robot – in a charming introduction to a ninety year old who is clearly happy to move with the times. Dr. Ruth laughs as she asks Alexa if she’ll get a boyfriend; “Sorry, I can’t answer that,” the robot abruptly replies, to the complete amusement of both subject and audience. This is a perfect setup for a film which will continue to explore Dr. Ruth’s extraordinarily lovable personality, alongside a deep respect for her academic achievements. 

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Sundance London 2018 Review: ‘An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn’ is a Waste of its Talented Cast

I will admit that I haven’t seen Jim Hosking’s previous Sundance venture The Greasy Strangler—a grotesque exercise in trying to annoy as many people as possible. After speaking with others at my screening who had seen The Greasy Strangler, it was evident that no one particularly liked it. So why were we here, seated for his sophomore feature? Morbid curiosity perhaps?

Credit should be given where it’s due, there are few directors with as a vision as singular as Hosking, a style that’s about as anti-Hollywood as it can get. Will he be able to retain his signature idiosyncratic style with top-tier comedic actors like Aubrey Plaza, Craig Robinson, and Jemaine Clement on board? To answer that question: yes he can, for better or for worse. Fans of The Greasy Strangler will revel in this offbeat trip. To everyone else, I recommend you don’t waste your time.

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Aubrey Plaza in ‘An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn’ © Universal Pictures

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Sundance London 2018 Review: ‘Skate Kitchen’ is a Vibrant Portrait of Female Friendship

Crystal Moselle’s previous film, the documentary The Wolfpack, chronicled the lives of a group of cinephile brothers who were confined to their Manhattan apartment for 14 years. Skate Kitchen, Moselle’s narrative feature debut, brings another slice of New York’s bustling culture to the big screen: the eponymous all-girl skate group. Moselle met several members of Skate Kitchen by chance on the subway in 2015, and the film marks their second collaboration after a Venice-bound short film. The film is like a narrative-documentary hybrid as she enlists the group to play fictionalised versions of themselves; a modern cinéma vérité. It’s evident how much she admires the skaters, as Skate Kitchen blossoms into a feisty coming-of-age tale about the enduring power of female friendship in the search for identity.

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Sundance London 2018 Review: ‘Never Goin’ Back’ is a Fun, Raunchy Tale of Teenage Rebellion

It’s a common tradition in the all-girl sleepover to lie down, stare blankly at the ceiling, and talk about the future. It’s a utopian view of the future, of course, in which you have your dream job, a giant house, and you can go on those luxury vacations usually reserved for celebrities and millionaires. Texas BFFs Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Cami Morrone) have dreams of their own: waste time away on the beach at Galveston. That all seems rather quaint, but for high school dropouts living paycheck-to-paycheck waiting tables at a diner—a little getaway means a lot.

 

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Maia Mitchell and Cami Morrone in ‘Never Goin’ Back’ © A24

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Sundance Film Festival: London Preview

Female directors may have been few and far between at Cannes, with only three films directed by women in competition, but the upcoming Sundance Film Festival: London promises a refreshing change. The British iteration of the famous festival brings a condensed lineup, but women are front and centre as 58% of the films showcased are directed by women. Films starring women will also be gracing the 4-day festival including Hereditary and Eighth Grade. The festival will also host panels and discussions on the state of the film industry and whether it is making steps towards inclusivity. For this Sundance preview, we highlight all of the female-directed films in the lineup.

THE TALE dir. Jennifer Fox

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Jennifer Fox’s harrowing autobiographical look at sexual abuse will be opening the festival following its premiere on HBO last Saturday. Laura Dern stars as Jennifer, a woman who is forced to reconcile the sexual relationship she had as a 13-year-old. In the age of Time’s Up and #MeToo, films like these feel timely, but it’s necessary that women get to tell their own stories in their own words.

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