Moving into the idea of identity but wanting to be loved on specific existential terms permeates this first batch of films reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival. Whether it is a real life TV personality, a social media climber who has lost touch with a reality or a professor searching to inhabit his real life, the progression is one of self realization or in certain cases self denial.
Mucho Mucho Amor The essence of documentaries is based in the ideas of the subject they are covering. Many times there is a definitive separation in the line between. With this film, it takes into focus Walter Mercado, an astrologer television evangelist who defied notions of gender representation. The film doesn’t try to solve the idea of the man but just the ideas and persona he radiated. His story is one of betrayal, love, myth and loneliness. The man himself retreated from his public persona but the reasons are undeniably heartbreaking but not from a perspective of life. The brilliance and loveliness of the man comes through in his performance. The positivity and just sheer charisma draws obvious comparisons to Freddie Mercury who could never be put in a box. Even when the path leads to a realization, it is undeniably true to the man and his essence.
Scare Me The aspect of horror is reflective in the idea of who is being scared. The idea here is an interesting comedy meta mix within the mileau. It is basically a one location deal where a guy who wants to be a writer ends up in a house with a best selling author who is a little odd herself. It works because it uses no real effects. It is all in the performance of the actors which is no mean feat. It is, in ways, unsuccessful in its attempt but there are moments especially on the lead actress’ side that are borderline brilliant. The progression into jealousy marked with anxiety is an interesting transgression though it is plotted very obviously. The resolution shows the dynamic of the actors though the aspiring writer gets a bit of the short end of the stick despite the irony. It ends with a diatribe into the notion of fleeting success and ambition.
Spree The idea of what dictates fame and fulfillment in an interesting dichotomy in the modern human psyche because it progresses the idea that we only exist if somebody else says we are. The story here follows Kurt who originally though he would become a real influencer. In a way, it is both similar and different from a movie called “King Kelly” that played at SXSW a few years ago. This film is more active about trying to gain fame through deliberate premeditation though this film makes a minute point of it. Spree is a bit of a side title because it is refers to the ride share app but also the journey of Kurt. Kurt is earnest but obviously threw a belt at one point before he progressed into this black hole of primal unspooling. Some of the story is dynamic though at a certain point its pointlessness of existence is an interesting construction mechanism. He moves between just utter self-awareness and a meta humor. At one point it intersects with a character who examines this while using her own fame to deconstruct who he actually is which is when the snap begins. Ultimately it ends before actually explaining a certain extent of his actions. On top of this it is shown specifically within phone perspective reversals and continuing security cams.
Uncle Frank As with many of the films, going in with less conception than just a simple tag line really helps. This film transcends itself at many points. Its story is dynamic but also heartfelt. It might not play everywhere but it really gets down to nitty-gritty divide which is prevalent today even though it takes place in the early 70s. While her performance in the film is not the most brilliant in this film by far, Sophie Lillis is still exception. The actress, who is known as young Beverly from IT was underused in Part II, but her precociousness and curiosity really has a great resounding quality here since her perception is almost as the narrator. But the story is about Frank. While this is not primarily a social story about sex, politics and identity, it is effective in understanding the true human drama it is. Alan Ball, known of course for “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood” finds his distinctiveness while also staying true to himself. The family that Bettany’s character must interact with is a treasure trove of character actors include Margo Martindale, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn and Lois Smith. The unfolding story brings the range of their prejudices, ignorance or own self esteem issues into play. A death requires they all return and eventually confront a long painful reveal. The texture of finding that balance can border on melodramatic but Ball keeps it just on the teetering point to give it heart and relevance with a point of self pity (though Bettany’s character skirts the edge). But it is because of human and humorous moments both by the innocent perceptions of Lillis as well as his long suffering but elative partner Wally who uplifts the movie in every scene he is in, that the film finds its equilibrium. That is the true heart because it is in this character of Wally even more than Lillis that defines the path through any pain. However the rule of acceptance in a small way done in two small scenes towards the end involving Zahn and Bettany and then Bettany, Martindale and Wally really cement the texture of what the film truly is: a gem.
By Tim Wassberg