Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Shortcomings’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As we get older, keeping relationships becomes difficult. Many factors can affect the outcome of relationships; career goals, mental health, and family issues are just a few. On top of that, social media has become so toxic that even the etiquette of being with a partner is also overanalyzed and tested. In Randall Park’s directorial debut, he explores the lives of three people, Ben Tanaka (Justin H. Min), Miko Hayashi (Ally Maki), and Alice Kim (Sherry Cola), as they search for a genuine connection. The three are interlinked, but they still face hardships on their own because of their personality traits. 

The three characters almost work together to show three different sides of dating. Ben is a very pretentious, condescending, combative and genuinely miserable person. He has been with Miko for six years, and their relationship becomes strained. They get into more arguments because Miko sees the world differently than Ben. Even though the story is about the two of them separating so Miko can follow her dreams in New York City, the stronger connection lies with Ben and Alice. They are best friends and can talk about everything together. The important thing is that Alice calls Ben out on everything. And Ben has a tough character, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve happiness.

Shortcomings shows what it’s like in the modern dating world as times change. Will you be the person who adapts with the rest of society or go against the grain to protect your ideals? Park brings out the best in his actors because it’s such a natural flow of events. It’s simple and realistic, which is what every romantic comedy should strive for. People are complex and have unique perspectives on society and the world around them. Ben is a character that stands by who he is and still tries to find love despite having people tell him the opposite. He’s not an unlikable character, and he’s just defending himself because of how others have hurt him in the past. 

Randall Park’s directorial debut is fresh with an Asian-American cast which explores interracial relationships as well. It’s all about perspective and how the modern world can influence our decisions because of social media. It’s also easy to get wrapped up in certain relationships based on comfort and security. You may be stuck in a relationship that no longer serves you, and you grow out of it while your partner stays the same. Many things happen in this film that break down relationships and how others should be treated through proper communication. What everyone can take from this film is that everyone deserves honesty, and everyone needs to be more understanding of everyone’s circumstances. 

Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Theater Camp’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

If you haven’t noticed, there is a clear definition between theatre and film. Dreamers have a more communal experience in the theatre community, whereas those who begin in Hollywood have a different outlook on fame. The theatre community is full of heart, understanding and compassion for their fellow actor. There is a specific “theatre” language that only theatre kids can understand. They live and breathe Sondheim, Lloyd-Webber, and Patti Lupone. Those who live and breathe theatre will break out into song at any moment. Theater Camp, directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, perfectly captures the essence of what it means to be in the theatre community, and it’s wonderful. 

During the summer months, young teens want to explore their dreams of becoming stars on Broadway. So, they head to one camp where they know they’ll feel at home. Co-writers Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, and Nick Lieberman write a funny and witty story that highlights all aspects of being in a theatre company. The staff working at this camp all want to help the children become the very best. And they take their jobs seriously. This mockumentary follows the aftermath of their leader falling into a coma the day before the summer session begins, and her son (who knows absolutely nothing about theatre) takes over. Gordon and Lieberman show the craziness of running a theatre camp and the power of friendship through shared interests.

Apart from the dialogue being “theatre kid” accurate, there are some heartfelt moments sprinkled in with friendships. Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) have been friends since they were five. They were scene partners in every show. And they built a beautiful friendship. But life happens outside of theatre camp, and Rebecca-Diane has different dreams than Amos. As they plan their final show together on behalf of their beloved creator Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris), their friendship takes a toll, and their true colours come out like never before. The camp crumbles around them, and so does their relationship. But, in true theatre fashion, the show must go on for these campers. 

Theater Camp is a real treat for those who grew up in the theatre community. It has plenty of laughs with the campers and teachers, as the sass runs deep with them. The structure of the mockumentary adds another layer to running the camp itself because you’re watching everything unfold from every angle. Gordon and Lieberman do a great job balancing the theatre camp and the relationships affected by the changes. It’s lighthearted and fun and shows what it’s like to be part of the loving theatre community. This movie will only work for you if you come from a theatre background because you’ll appreciate the humour and the community atmosphere. 

‘Knock at the Cabin’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In Paul Tremblay’s novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” he explores religious themes and how compassionate humanity is. When four people knock on their cabin door while on vacation, they speak on Judgement Day, and the apocalypse is near. Tremblay explores two sides of faith in this novel, and M. Night Shyamalan follows through in the adaptation of Knock at the Cabin. The two father’s in the film, Daddy Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Daddy Eric (Jonathan Groff), have different responses to the prophecy presented to them: one family member must be sacrificed, or the world population will die. The concept doesn’t seem to be something that can be fleshed out into a film, but Shyamalan works his magic and creates a good thriller. 

The film opens with young Wen (Kristen Cui) out in this beautiful forest catching grasshoppers while her dads are inside. Within moments, the atmosphere shifts because of the chilling score and figure out in the distance. Shyamalan uses his surroundings to make Wen feel small, tapping into the child’s perspective. As the large man named Leonard (Dave Bautista) approaches her, the score becomes more sinister, and Shyamalan utilizes extreme close-ups to show that something isn’t quite right. Since the statement, “Don’t talk to strangers,” has been drilled into our minds, as audience members, we feel uneasy on behalf of Wen. There’s this instant connection whenever there’s a child involved. Leonard communicates with her in a very even tone and tries to become friends by using shared interests. In a way, he manipulates her to get inside the cabin. 

The visual language of this film enhances the experience of the situational thriller because of the choices used for violent or graphic scenes. Shyamalan uses unique framing compositions and extreme close-ups to shift the tone inside the cabin. The camera angles used during fights or sacrifices place the viewer in a vulnerable position which isn’t conventionally used. Furthermore, Shyamalan doesn’t show some of the graphic kills. Instead, he moves the camera away while you hear what’s happening. The reason why this is a good thriller is because of the atmosphere that is created surrounding the characters in the story. There is no depth to any of the characters, and the biblical parallels are kept at the surface level, as we’ve seen it all before. However, Shyamalan’s unique vision makes it engaging. 

Knock at the Cabin shows how having faith or being a realist can have pros and cons. Shyamalan’s visual style and pacing of this film create so much tension that you will be glued to the screen throughout. The performances by Ben Aldridge and Dave Bautista carry the film, as their characters challenge each other about the truth of the apocalypse. The story is repetitive, but due to the strong pacing, it breezes by, and you contemplate what you would do in this situation. As someone who is not a big fan of Shyamalan’s work, this is one of his better projects because it’s an adaptation with a linear storyline that’s easy to grasp. It’s more so the feeling the film evokes with the premise lingering in the background, and he ultimately lets the audience process everything on their own. 

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Judy Blume Forever’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When you’re officially an adult, you see the world differently. You also look back on your childhood and understand that children need to be educated on more than subjects in school, but life itself. That’s why books are fundamental for children and young teens, so they can understand how they’re feeling. In those moments of anxiousness, fear, and self-doubt, the child has to ride the wave themselves because no one tries to understand them. Adults tend to use tactics that wouldn’t make sense when helping children in the development stage of their lives. Instead, author Judy Blume reaches into her past to write in a voice that young people can relate to and have a source to express themselves. 

In Judy Blume Forever, directed by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok, they show Blume’s career journey and how she broke into the industry. She thought she had it all figured out and wanted to live the life she was conditioned to lead. After she married her first husband and had two kids, she no longer wanted to be a housewife. She wanted to work, and she had many ideas in her head. She always wanted to write, and so in her free time, while she watched her kids, that’s what she did. The structure of this documentary made it so insightful because there was a mixture of fans, celebrities, and Blume herself, confirming the connection she had with her readers. The use of old interview footage to break up segments of what each book did for children and parents caused the conflict. 

Blume wanted to be honest with her readers about how tough it can be growing up. Family life can be difficult, friendships can be straining, and your body is going through changes you don’t understand. She wrote from the perspective of a young child, and adults were uncomfortable. Children should be knowledgeable about the world around them, and that’s what Blume wanted to do with her books. The more sheltered they become, the worse it is when they’re older. Moreover, the government planned to ban certain books from libraries and schools because of the subject matter. Blume’s work was under a microscope because she was an adult writing about intimate subjects that parents felt should be discussed privately. But what’s more private than reading words on a page? 

Judy Blume Forever shows the trajectory of an outspoken woman who fought for honesty in children’s books. She believed that talking to children about important subjects like anxiety, sexual abuse, and grief could help them process things differently. Just because you discuss things on a surface level with your children once doesn’t mean that those feelings disappear. They begin to manifest because they believe they will be misunderstood or an emotional burden if they express themselves. Blume reached so many children with her book and helped them become adults by becoming penpals with them. Blume is a wonderful person through and through, and her spirit shines through the pages of her books. It’s a wholesome documentary and one of the best of the festival. 

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Eileen’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we think of Neo-noir, we tend to think about a male lead and a modern femme fatale as his counterpart. Many films have followed the same conventions, but Eileen, directed by William Oldroyd, creates a different setting. The film is adapted from the novel under the same name written by Ottessa Moshfegh. During Christmas, Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) befriends a new co-worker Dr. Rebecca Saint John (Anne Hathaway), at the local prison facility. Things turn sinister once they get to know each other. This mystery slowly builds over time as the budding relationship between Saint John and Dunlop has a palpable tension to hold your attention. 

Through the use of exemplary cinematography by Ari Wegner, we see that Eileen has two sides to her. Her brain is foggy as she observes women and couples from afar. It seems she hasn’t had a relationship yet, and her mind drifts off as she thinks of sexual encounters with people she sees. On top of that, she seems worn out, older than she looks, and miserable. After losing her mother, she’s stuck at home with her retired, abusive father, and Eileen has some dark thoughts. One case, in particular, sticks out at work where a young boy murdered his father. Eileen checks on the young man daily and wonders what’s going on in his mind. Causing her to question if she would do the same to her father and what her reasoning would be. Then enters Dr. Saint John, who turns her world upside down.

It’s hard to imagine Anne Hathaway in a blonde wig, but it doesn’t even dawn on you that it’s her. Hathaway completely embodied Dr. Saint John and was incredibly alluring. She was aloof or direct, depending on whom she was speaking to. Working in a men’s prison can sure have its moments, and that’s why there’s this softness when she approaches McKenzie. The chemistry between them was the best part of this film. Eileen wanted to be with Rebecca, but she always wanted to be as sure of herself as she was. After a drunken night at a bar filled with tensions, subtle glances and grazes, Eileen would do anything for Rebecca. And the desperation from Eileen was felt through and through. The third act was unexpected but worth the slow burn of this journey with these characters. 

Eileen won’t be for everyone, but it is for those who enjoy noir films and a strong duo with great tension. Hathaway was fantastic and will hold your attention throughout the film. Even though she doesn’t have much screen time, the scenes she does have will captivate you. McKenzie is engaging to watch, but it isn’t until the third act that she shines and dominates the ending. Oldroyd’s direction is strong throughout, and he shows both sides of Eileen; the miserable lifestyle she leads and the glamorous one she wants to lead. There are choices made to capture what she’s feeling simultaneous, which worked instead of a voiceover to explain her thoughts. It’s a slow burn that has a shocking ending that works for Eileen’s romanticized version of the life she wants.