Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Fair Play’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Men and women have different perceptions of each other. Women are often seen as inferior, and men think of themselves as this higher power. Misogyny is embedded in everyone’s psyche because of patriarchal standards. It comes down to social conditioning at a very young age; as you get older, it can be difficult to rewire your brain. The contrast is seen in the workplace among all industries, as women still need to work twice as hard to prove themselves. In Fair Play, written and directed by Chloe Domont, a newly engaged couple is put to the test when one gets promoted at their shared workplace. It is a sleek, erotic thriller that explores gender roles and their reversal in the modern world. 

A New York couple, Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) are in love. They met while working in the same office and haven’t told anyone about their relationship. The company they work for is one of the largest investors in the city, and Human Resources would get involved if anyone found out. Dynevor and Ehrenreich have incredible chemistry during the more loving moments of Emily and Luke’s relationship, but they shine once the claws come out because of a promotion at work. Luke attempts to undercut Emily at every turn and feels emasculated after the shocking turn of events in the office. What started as a “power couple” supporting each other to rise to the top turned into a vicious game of dominance in the workplace and the relationship. 

Domont’s script is so fresh because of how sophisticated the dialogue was between Emily and Luke. In the beginning, they’re playful with each other as they crave each other’s touch at every moment. The words exchanged are thoughtful, sweet and supportive. The innocent conversations about the office and their relationship came from a healthy place of concern. Everything that is said in the first half is completely twisted in the second half as Luke and Emily use previous harmless conversations as weapons against each other. Dynevor exudes this fierceness with plenty of emotion for Emily, while Ehrenreich turns into himself and bottles the mania Luke’s feeling as he slips away from the company. When things become difficult, your partner’s true colours will always show, and Domont shows how bad it can get. 

Fair Play shows how women in power can still make a man feel uncomfortable and degraded. Domont’s script is electric and engaging, as her characters never miss a beat when arguing with each other. The flip of the power dynamics within the household before and after the promotion is unsettling to watch. Dynevor and Ehrenreich are powerhouses in this, as the beast inside their characters is revealed for different reasons. As you watch the film, you feel that Luke can’t treat Emily worse than he already is. Ultimately, Luke’s self-esteem is so low by the end of this film that he tries his utmost to turn it only to cause more destruction. It is such an important film to watch because of how unfairly women can be treated in their relationships by men who project their insecurities on their partners. 

Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Magazine Dreams’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As we grow, we understand where our character stems from. What our insecurities are and what we strive for can become an obsession. It can be rooted in deep trauma and slowly manifest into something else. It can be personal issues, relationships or a career. Whatever happens in childhood is considered baggage because everyone has gone through something. Even minor mishaps can stay in your mind and have long-term effects on future situations are handled. Magazine Dreams, written and directed by Elijah Bynum, is a dark, chilling look into the mind of Killian Maddox, a bodybuilder obsessed with appearing on the front cover of a magazine. We see how far Maddox (Jonathan Majors) is willing to push himself and uncover many repressed thoughts and feelings. 

Bynum masterfully crafts a psychological drama deeply rooted in familial trauma and profoundly affects the trajectory of Maddox’s life. Maddox is a complex character whom people can sympathize with until they can’t. Bynum creates a balance between the highs of Maddox’s mental illness and the lows to gain sympathy but also address serious issues that plague our society. A major one is eating disorders which can lead to an obsessive and unhealthy connection with food. After losing a father figure, Maddox turned to a bodybuilder as his source of inspiration. He became the main figure in his life, someone to aspire to be and get out of the reality he was living in. This caused many issues for Maddox as the commentary from judges would consume him and push him to improve.

The obsession with his career as a bodybuilder took over his life and changed him. He did not socially interact with people the same way others would. He tried hard to be loved and accepted by others. Bynum also shows toxic masculinity through the old-fashioned ideology that you keep pushing even when you’re down and hide when you’re feeling low. And it’s heartbreaking to watch Maddox pass out from the pressure of being the perfect specimen. This is an acting showcase for Jonathan Majors and how talented he is. There are moments of sincerity and hopefulness in between the unhinged obsessive side of Maddox. It’s a blend of emotions and feelings that boil to the surface that Maddox has no explanation for. And Majors gives his most powerful and rather perfect performances to date. 

Magazine Dreams is unhinged, anxiety-inducing, and unpredictable. Bynum creates a chilling atmosphere with an incredible score and camera work to make you feel as impulsive as Maddox. He explores toxic masculinity, mental illness, trauma, and body image in a story filled with horrible circumstances. Jonathan Majors is at his best as Killian Maddox, and his performance will not leave anyone’s mind after they watch it. Maddox is a character that people can learn from, and it does end on a hopeful note. Bynum has created something that will help others understand that you are enough, and to always take care of yourself first. It is one of the most haunting films about body image and how to prioritize your mental health and self-esteem over trying to achieve perfection through societal norms.

Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Over the years, Elvis Presley has been known as the King of Rock and Roll. But after watching Little Richard: I Am Everything, you begin to wonder how that title even got passed down to Presley in the first place. Lisa Cortés brought together many wonderful elements to tell the complicated life story of Little Richard. He had many talents, but more importantly, he was filled with love and light. After watching this, you can see where many other artists got their inspiration. Little Richard was a pioneer, and he broke down barriers when America was still segregated. His music brought people together. 

The one thing that Cortés does so well in this documentary is that she completely embodies the spirit of Little Richard. From beautiful vibrant colours to explosive images being edited together to the sparkling dust floating in the air, it felt like he was present. It was nice that she integrated the interviews where Little Richard describes himself and the industry treated a Black queer man in the 50s and early 60s. At times Little Richard was unapologetically himself, and he would help others embrace their identity. There is a reason teenagers loved his music, and it’s because they felt free when listening to it. They felt they could do anything because Little Richard would give them a voice. Even though he was on a high because everyone loved his work, the industry didn’t give him his flowers. 

It was almost hard to watch Little Richard go through all the ups and downs because of personal issues. Many of Little Richard’s changes came when he was terrified of death, so he turned to God. When he changed his persona, he also gave up his queerness and renounced it. For Little Richard to “come out” was hard for him. He grew up when it was hard to be an openly Black queer man in America. He went back and forth, and each time he changed his image. It’s almost as if he kept reinventing himself each time he went down a bad path or started to get scared. No matter how anyone perceived him, he stood his ground and cemented himself in this industry. He was an incredible performer, and the smaller bands (at the time) like ‘The Rolling Stones’ and ‘The Beatles in the early 60s were in awe of the architect of rock and roll. 

Little Richard: I Am Everything is a powerful documentary that highlights the best aspects of Little Richard. He was someone who loved to perform and would often outshine anyone else. He managed to free many people with his music and opened the door for many other artists who openly used their sex appeal with their onstage persona as well. Little Richard had a hard life and got into music because he wanted to help his family financially. He had no idea that he had the power to change music history. He had the voice and the genius to structure a new genre. Lisa Cortés highlighted the unfairness towards Black artists in the industry and how Black music has always been the foundation for other genres. The influence in all parts of life has always been present, and credit is due where credit is due. 

Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

For many, life can seem pointless or empty or dull. Some are waiting until something good happens to them. Others are ambitious and get what they want, while others watch time pass them by until it’s all over. Waiting can make anyone turn inside themselves and forget to live. People can feel insignificant or even uninteresting to the point where they think about a world where they don’t exist; would anyone care if they were gone? Sadly, some people feel alone and think they have no one to turn to. They create a barrier between them and anyone who tries to break down the walls to let some light in. They feel comfortable on their own and forget how to be with others because they may be going through their issues. Sometimes I Think About Dying, directed by Rachel Lambert, is a heartbreaking, sorrowful exploration of loneliness, social anxiety, and learning how to live again. 

From the opening of this film, Lambert sets the tone by establishing the early morning landscape in a small town. Fran (Daisy Ridley) wakes up, goes to work, and sits in her cubicle all day. The aspect ratio being 4:3 also compliments the space used as a room with four walls. So with a few technical components, the viewer is already in Fran’s head, sitting at the desk with her. For those who have worked in an office space, one can relate to the bland and uninteresting aspects of sitting at your desk day in and day out. And yes, your mind does start to wander. But in Fran’s case, she thinks about ways to die. Fran is detached from everyone in the office and keeps to herself. The score is almost dreamlike as it accompanies the dull moments of office life, and her so-called uninteresting life. It counters dark thoughts and creates a sense of hopefulness. 

When Robert (Dave Merheje) steps into the office as a new hire, Fran’s world is turned upside down. And that glimmer of faith in humanity is restored. Robert takes a liking to Fran. It’s an extrovert pulling the introvert out of their shell little by little. Merheje and Ridley have wonderful chemistry, even though Ridley is playing a rigid and more reserved character. Through Lambert’s direction, effective editing and sound design, we get to see how social anxiety feels through Fran. The film feels so quiet and intimate in the office setting that it may feel like nothing happens, but the characters keep you invested. Ridley’s performance is heart-wrenching, and the third act is when we appreciate the writing by Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz and Katy Wright-Mead. Towards the end of the film, there are conversations about relationships and waiting for the right time that hit you emotionally. Lambert expresses that if you wait too long to do something, life will pass you by and take those years away. 

Sometimes I Think About Dying has a bland and uninteresting office space with a community of people who try their best every day. Fran does keep to herself but also wants to be included. Her severe social anxiety keeps her from ever interacting with any of them unless it’s strictly about office supplies. No matter how dark life can get, there is always that shred of hope that can keep anyone going. Even though it feels so empty and isolated, there’s this relatability to Fran’s character that many can resonate with. The co-writers and director Rachel Lambert crafted a film that balances a bleak outlook on life and the warmth of letting other people in. There’s a mixture of feelings addressed tenderly by Lambert. It’s because she subtly shows whom Fran is without her saying a word. Even though there’s this closed-off individual, there is still a feeling of belonging to a community that is present throughout. 

Sundance Film Festival 2023: L’Immensità Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we are children, we live in our bubbles. Creating our fantasy world is safe because we have barely any responsibilities. As we grow up, the world changes our perception of life and how adults live. The older we get, the more we understand relationship dynamics and the difference between societal roles. L’Immensità explores one family’s life with their secrets and how they’ve come to live with the choices they’ve made. Director Emanuele Crialese subtly crafts this story about a mother, Clara (Penelope Cruz), who loses herself in her abusive marriage while channelling her inner child to connect more with her children. It’s a heartbreaking story that shows the fine line between motherhood and agency and how perceptive children can be when something is wrong. 

Clara has a stronger connection with her three children than with her husband. The story focuses on her oldest child, Adri (Luana Giuliani), who is having an identity crisis. Clara and Adri share a special bond. Adri is the oldest and understands how men and women operate. She defends Clara against her father quite often. Adri knows that her mother is being abused and interjects whenever possible. Crialese has the children hear their arguments instead of showing the more effective abuse. Cruz gives a stunning performance as her reactions reveal more than words ever could. It’s hard to see a woman balance motherhood and her issues as a woman, all while trying to raise her children. 

Crialese frames Clara and Adri as the main characters in their stories through the fantasy world he creates. There are beautifully shot musical numbers that are integrated to show what they long for. Adri wants to be seen as a boy, so he tries to escape to a place where no one knows who she is. She finds love on the other side of the cornstalks with a gypsy and claims their name as Andrew instead. Even to get away from the madness of his home, he feels seen and accepted there. The more people taunt Adri and question his mental state, the more he lashes out in trying to understand why God made him the way he is. Through this identity crisis and exploration of sexuality, Adri has to become a parent to his mother as well. 

L’Immensità highlights the many obstacles women have to face when dealing with the facade of womanhood. There is no proper way to be a woman or how to handle toxic situations. It shows the societal conditioning of a nuclear family and how much of a facade it can be. Crialese crafts a beautiful script that plays on the subtleties of his characters to have a closer emotional connection with them. It’s incredibly emotional when the children begin to understand how their father mistreats their mother, and they all go to console her. This coming-of-age piece can also resonate with adults, as Crialese uses some of his experiences to show the intellectual connection between teens and adults.