Sundance Film Festival: ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Normally coming-of-age films mainly surround teenagers in high school, but as society shifts and generation’s change, the real struggle in identifying who you are comes right after college. It’s the moment where you finish school and the thought of being a fully formed adult is what makes us all spiral. School is a security blanket for so many of us and then once we graduate, it’s like we’re just existing, trying to understand how any of this works. Every single decision we make after we graduate holds so much weight for us because if things don’t go right, our generation doesn’t see it as living, we see it as wasting time. We feel like there is no room for mistakes and that’s where the anxiety kicks in.

In Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth, we meet Andrew (Cooper Raiff) who is fresh out of college and like the rest of us; he has no idea how to even move forward. Higher education failed to provide 22-year-old Andrew with a clear life path going forward, so he’s stuck back at home with his family in New Jersey. The one thing college did teach him is how to party and he uses those skills to be the perfect candidate for a job party-starting as the ‘Jig Conductor’ at the bar and bat mitzvahs of his younger brother’s classmates. When Andrew befriends a local mom, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), he finally discovers a future he wants, even if it might not be his own.

The reason I connected with Cha Cha Real Smooth is because of how kind and heartfelt the story is. There is just so much genuine love and kindness that radiates off Raiff’s character of Andrew and it’s just very infectious. You connect with Andrew on an emotional level within the first moments of meeting him. At 22-years-old we all find life confusing, but more specifically, we all find love confusing. The connection that Andrew has with Domino is hard to describe unless you’ve felt that deep, comforting connection with someone without even knowing them that well. Johnson and Raiff have great chemistry, which made their soulful connection more believable. As the story unfolds, we see that their relationship will inevitably take a toll on both of them, but the memories will last forever.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is a coming-of-age film that explores life after college and what the definition of a soul mate is. It’s an exploration of love at any age; whether it’s shown through his parents, his younger brother and his first girlfriend, an old high school flame, or a mother with a fiancée, love is most definitely complicated. But from what I’ve learned, it’s better to feel those emotions and say that you’ve loved with every single part of your soul, than to not have experienced it at all. Because even through a possible heartbreak, you did learn something and you will grow from it, but always look back at those special moments as something beautiful.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Lucy and Desi’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What can be said about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz that hasn’t already been said? Well, Amy Poehler brings the two of them together again in this beautiful, heartfelt documentary Lucy and Desi. What was so perfect about this documentary was the genuine care and love that went into retelling their story through archival footage, home videos, interviews, and clips from the beloved sitcom, I Love Lucy. Amy Poehler truly did both of them justice with this documentary because she understood their work ethic, love, admiration for the industry. It came from such a pure place and it translated with the structure of the documentary.

Poehler really gave us their full story with all the ups and downs done in such a tasteful manner. She even had on-screen interviews with their children, Desi Arnaz Jr., and Lucy Arnaz. Poehler also had comedy icons, Norman Lear, Bette Midler, and Carol Burnett speak about Lucy and Desi. That one-day in 1940, when two budding stars met for the first time in the RKO Pictures commissary, they were unaware that together they would change the face of pop culture. Lucy and Desi made I Love Lucy the blueprint for all sitcoms that came after it. Without them, there wouldn’t have been the surge in television that would give us many other shows, courtesy of DesiLu Productions.

The most beautiful aspect about Lucy and Desi is how they showed the impact Lucille Ball made as a woman on television and how much of an impact Desi Arnaz made as a Cuban man on and off-camera. People don’t realize the empire the two of them built while working on a show that stole the hearts of so many people. It was just really beautiful to see Lucille Ball understanding her role as a trailblazer in the industry late in her career and used her platform to empower other women coming up in the industry. If it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have known Carol Burnett or even Joan Rivers. She worked with them and just wanted to share the joy that comedy brings to so many. If it weren’t for Desi Arnaz and his good eye for great writing and unique story angle, we wouldn’t have gotten Hogan’s Heroes, Star Trek, or, The Dick van Dyke Show.

Lucy and Desi is just such a beautiful documentary that shows Lucy and Desi as the power couple they were back in the day. Even through their divorce, they still worked together because they loved each other and how well they worked together. Even though Desi Arnaz took a backseat near the end of his career, he was still working with Lucille Ball. They had a connection from the very start and sometimes life just doesn’t work out as you thought it would. There was always a genuine love for the industry that was shared between them and sometimes that’s strong enough to hold a lifelong friendship together. Poehler made sure that you could feel the weight of their career and how much they meant to the world.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Resurrection’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we are young, the decisions that we make, and one’s that are made for us can affect us for the rest of our lives. At one point or another, young women are taking advantage of because of their vulnerability and naiveté. Young girls have been groomed and abused in many different ways, as those acts can sometimes be labelled as love. The perception of love and relationships can be tainted forever, causing future relationships to feel unsatisfying. In Andrew Semans, Resurrection he explores trauma, motherhood, and relationships through a very obscure story with Rebecca Hall giving her best performance to date as Margaret.

Margaret leads a successful and orderly life, perfectly balancing the demands of her busy career and single parenthood to her fiercely independent daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman). Margaret knows that Abbie is going away for college soon and the need to teach her the proper precautions is the catalyst of her spiralling into the thought of an empty nest. There are little situations that happen with Abbie that force Margaret to hold onto her a bit tighter in order to protect her. Margaret’s past trauma, which is powerfully retold through a monologue by Hall at the midpoint of the film, slowly begins to affect her judgment when she catches a glimpse of the man who had taken so much from her early on.

As the film goes on, we see where the trauma stems from for Margaret and it is one of the most unsettling stories. Semans puts the focus on mental and emotional abuse through Margaret’s story and explores the aftermath of living with the past. Rebecca Hall gives an outstanding performance and completely embodied this role. The small mannerisms, the breaths that she took, the shaking during her moments of panic, and the physicality she brought to this role was brilliant. She used everything in her body to tell Margaret’s story and she grounded this film. If it weren’t for Rebecca Hall, this film wouldn’t have worked as well.

Resurrection is a very slow burn, psychological thriller that dives into past trauma and how it can affect your entire life. The first half is grounded in Hall’s performance and the meaning of motherhood, while the second half goes a bit off the rails. The story is just a tad bit too obscure to fully grasp the themes that were used in the film. The final 10 minutes are truly shocking and there is a certain boundary with the suspension of disbelief to have it be beneficial to the narrative. The pacing was strong and watch Hall spiral into past was truly something to see. It surely is an interesting, original story and it gave us a phenomenal Rebecca Hall performance.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What humans need more than anything, now more than ever is intimacy. What we are all lacking is a genuine connection with another soul. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, there can be a sense of emptiness, or that ten percent of something that could be lacking. Humans are never fully satisfied and especially in today’s generation, everyone is always looking for the next best thing or is even too afraid to become emotionally attached to anyone. It also doesn’t matter what age you are, everyone is going through their own version of what intimacy and connection means to them. What Sophie Hyde does in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is create a very sex positive and honest conversation about what it means to be truly intimate with someone.

At the beginning of this film we meet Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) who, unfortunately for her, doesn’t know good sex. She is a retired schoolteacher, and is pretty sure she has never had it, but she is determined to finally do something about that. She comes up with a plan, which involves an anonymous hotel room and a young sex worker who calls himself Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). Leo is confident, dapper, and takes pride in being good at his job. Nancy is incredibly insecure and overthinks every single decision she makes. Due to her age and the social conditioning during her upbringing, sex has never been something that she could openly talk about, let alone engage in. In comes, Leo who is young and incredibly honest when discussing sexual acts with Nancy. As their first meeting unfolds, Nancy and Leo teach each other about different forms of intimacy in order to connect with one another.

What I enjoyed the most about this film was the connection between Nancy and Leo. Many tend to think that being intimate with someone strictly means being sexual with your partner, but it can also hold meaning within deeper conversations. The vulnerability peaks out when getting to know someone through asking those tough questions and creating a level of trust in order to connect with them. The choice to not show the sexual acts at the beginning created a different path for Leo and Nancy, which I appreciated. The screenplay written by Katy Brand touched upon so many things that men and women overthink about, and in Nancy’s case, use humour to explain how ashamed she is of her sexual history.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is such an honest, beautiful film about love, relationships, and intimacy. It’s all about connecting with another person and simply enjoying life. What Hyde teaches all of us is that pleasure is a good thing and is needed in order to live a fulfilling life. You can find pleasure in absolutely anything that brings you some sort of peace or even joy. There’s so much honesty in each conversation Leo and Nancy share that it felt like a therapy session from two different generational perspectives. It’s so well-written and the structure of the film allows each conversation to breathe and make an impact. Thompson and McCormack were delightful and wonderful chemistry that carried the film.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Speak No Evil’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Why is it that every single time you go on a family vacation, your parents always want to befriend another family? Isn’t the point of a “family” vacation spending more time together as a unit, away from distractions? Well, in Christian Tafdrup’s twisted, psychological, family thriller Speak No Evil he explores what could possibly go wrong after meeting another family on vacation. It’s always nice to meet new people and have those small conversations just to pass the time, but we never fully know who they are. For all we know, that first impression can be a whole facade, but since the relationship ends after taking that flight home, we truly will never know who we’ve spent all that time with on vacation.

While on holiday in Tuscany, a Danish family becomes fast friends with a fellow travelling family from the Netherlands. Months later, when an invitation arrives encouraging the Danish family to visit the Dutch in their countryside home, they don’t hesitate to plan a quick getaway. Even in reality and not in the context of the film, that seems like a red flag, but as Tufdrup explores the character dynamic between the two couples, it makes more sense as to why the Danish couple would want to meet with them. Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) are more reserved and play by the rules, while Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders) are free spirits, enjoying life with no bounds. Bjorn misses that freedom that he once had as a young boy and enjoys Patrick’s carefree nature because of it.

The Dutch family welcomes the Danish family for the weekend, as they engage in fun conversations over different food and drinks. As the drinks start to flow, Bjørn and Louise start to loosen up but seem to still be uncomfortable with how open Patrick and Karin are with each other in front of them. As the weekend goes on, the couples explore each other’s personalities and test each other’s limits. There is one major confrontation that shifts the dynamic and is the turning point of the film. It so happens that Patrick and Karin aren’t just eccentric and free-spirited, but they are hiding something much more disturbing that unfolds a bit too late in the third act to make a big impact.

Speak No Evil has a very strong premise, a chilling score by Sune “Køter” Kølster, fantastic night shots from the director of photography, Erik Molberg Hansen, and interesting choices made by Tufdrup. The film explores these two couples and how comfortable they feel being in the same house with people they barely know. The third act is quite shocking and it would have been better if there were a bit more development with Patrick and Karin’s backstory. The performances from all four of them were incredibly strong and it was engaging for the most part, just to see what would happen next. It’s a very slow burn that keeps you interested because of how the drama unfolds.