My first full day at Sundance this year was still relatively quiet. No 8:30AM screening, no midnight screening. Things start picking up this weekend with early mornings and late nights, lots of movies and interviews, so as an appetizer, please enjoy these recaps of the three movies I saw on the second day of Sundance.
All my slogging through required viewings of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility remakes has paid off in Austenland. It’s a loving satire of Jane Austen tropes in an easily accessible rom-com. Jane (Keri Russell) is obsessed with Jane Austen and goes to a Jane Austen resort to live out her fantasy. Now I’m not a fan of Jane Austen, but I am a fan of fandom, so that’s what I related to. The fact that Jane loves Jane Austen so much makes her my kind of girl, and there’s a really funny joke about a Mr. Darcy cutout she keeps in her room. At Austenland, customers get to play a woman of the Jane Austen era and have performers romance them a la the Jane Austen customs. They’re not allowed to touch though. It’s not a full service resort. That conceit is a lovely way to parody the clichés of Jane Austen and romantic comedies: the cheesy courtships, the sourpuss Darcy figure, etc. Also, Jane couldn’t afford the elite package so she has to play a servant girl, which is a funny commentary on the classism of Austen novels. It’s also ridiculous because who would buy an experience of getting mistreated and rejected, and therefore what kind of business would offer such a package that no one would buy? The actors and customers at Austenland are a hoot. It’s as predictable as any rom-com but Jane is a smart enough character that you’re happy to see her work through the plot.
Austenland Tea Party
After the world premiere of Austenland, I got an exclusive invite to the after-party, a tea party at a cafe on Main Street. I had tea with Shannon Hale, author of the book Austenland(and the film’s co-screenwriter), and Jane Seymour, who’s actually British. I also got to meet Stephenie Meyer, who produced the film. She was lovely and approachable, though it may have helped that I knew her publicist. We’ll be speaking with Meyer and the cast on camera tomorrow. I also said hi to Jared and Jerusha Hess and reminded them of the time I gave them a picture of me dressed as Nacho Libre for Halloween. They remembered. Apparently, I’m still the only person who’s ever given them such a picture.
Emmanuel and the Truth About Fishes
Emmanuel and the Truth About Fishes opens like the ultimate film festival personal project. Emmanuel (Kaya Scodelario) tells us about how her mom died in childbirth and how she considers herself a murderer in a poetic monologue, in which she compares the surgeon’s pumping her mom’s organ’s to masturbation. As we see Emmanuel interact with people, she’s clever in that sarcastic way that keeps her from connecting with anyone. She can push her stepmother’s buttons by talking about lesbian dreams and she can make a witty remark about tattooing her name on her arm so she knows who she is, but those zingers tell anyone else to keep away. It is a testament to writer/director Francesca Gregorini and actress Scodelario that I know this character so personally. I’ve got her number because all the details of someone who behaves like this are there. So after that introduction, then this movie gets crazy! I don’t want to give it away for people who won’t get to see the movie for months, but this is a movie about grief, and I love movies about grief. I think it’s healthy to explore grief in constructive ways, especially because most people want to avoid it. Emmanuel babysits for her neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel) forms a relationship that forces her to deal with her own loss and ways of coping, but Linda’s issues are way outside the box. Also, the fish are a metaphor.
Go ahead, make all the jokes you want about this melodrama about two mothers swapping sons as their lovers. You can’t possibly top the unintentional laughs in the actual film. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play the mothers of the title. They’re not titular mothers because that would mean they’re mothers in name only, and they are in fact biological mothers. The premise of what happens when two mothers sleep with each other’s sons isn’t as interesting as the idea that they’re all happy living with these questionable decisions, so how about that? I give the film, or perhaps the original short novel The Grandmothers, credit for exploring the plot in so many extended permutations of relationships. What happens when the moms find out about each other? What happens when they decide they’re okay with it? What happens when the boys grow up? What happens when one wants to stop and the other doesn’t? That’s good exploration and the characters address these issues every step of the way. Unfortunately, the dialogue is so blunt it’s laughable. At first the audience may laugh as a tension breaker, but after a while you realize the characters really don’t know they’re being ridiculous. I can be amused by the extent of this mother loving turmoil, but I imagine it was supposed to be sincere, and nobody tonight took Two Mothers seriously.
Read all of Fred Topel's daily recaps from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival:
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.