Sundance 2013 Recap: Days 4-5

Fred Topel reviews Afternoon Delight, Ass Backwards, I Used to be Darker, Magic Magic, Prince Avalanche and Sweetwater.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Midway through Sundance, the movies seem to be getting better and better. I’ve done some full reviews of some of the big standouts but even some of the lesser competitors have some worthwhile aspects so I can’t just write them off. For days four and five were all mostly above average except for one.

Afternoon Delight

Afternoon Delight is that Sundance movie where people explore their feelings without quite that high concept hook of a studio movie. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is unhappy, so she tries to help McKenna (Juno Temple), a stripper and sex worker, by letting her live with her family. This is not the wacky “stripper in the house” movie though. Rachel and her husband (Josh Radnor) have stopped sleeping together so Rachel is exploring sexual thoughts, be they joining McKenna with a client or considering feelings for McKenna herself. Like raw emotion, Afternoon Delight’s story is messy, bouncing from humorous defense mechanism to emotional breakdown, but always interesting. It can go really dark. There are a lot of rape jokes but they’re all delivered by women and the joke is about being grateful for not being raped I guess. I’m digging myself into a hole on the rape thing so let me just say I’m complimenting writer/director Jill Soloway’s handling of taboo subjects. Once everything falls apart, all the supporting characters show real depth and the ensemble shines.

Photo Credit: Jim Frohna

Ass Backwards

I already loved Casey Wilson but now I discovered her partner June Diane Raphael, who’s so on the same wavelength that it’s like there’s two of her! And the movie opens with a shot of both of their asses, and they’re great asses. They better not be doubles or I’ll be really disappointed. Chloe (Wilson) and Kate (Raphael) are BFFs in New York. Kate sells her eggs for fertility and Chloe stands in a glass box in a club. They get an invitation to return for the 50th anniversary of the child beauty pageant they lost and they think this is their big chance to win. A wacky road trip misadventure ensues. Kate and Chloe are so positive it’s contagious and endearing. There are plenty of set pieces for them to go wild, and it’s like a movie with two Pennys from “Happy Endings!” There are some awkward sped up car stunts and most of the set pieces feel a tad short, like they could have built a little further, but give ‘em more money for the sequel and you’ve got a comedy franchise here.

Photo Credit: Prominent Pictures

I Used to be Darker

Full disclosure, I Used to Be Darker was produced by someone with whom I went to high school, so I’m reviewing it with a bit of personal pride. I also tend to be generous towards the truly raw festival movies, and this is one where things just seem to happen, so it won’t be for everyone. Taryn (Deragh Campbell) drops in on her aunt Kim (Kim Taylor) and uncle Bill (Ned Oldham) right as they’re separating and Kim’s leaving the house. She ends up staying with Bill, and her cousin Abby (Hannah Gross) arrives. For a while Taryn and Abby just go around socializing, and Kim and Bill keep to themselves dealing with their personal dreams and frustrations. There are interesting moments like Bill’s guitar scene, Abby exploding and Taryn and Bill’s confrontation with Kim. As the movie builds, it shows that different relationships between people work and some just can’t. Taryn loves Kim but Kim’s own daughter Abby hates her mom. I appreciate the raw voice in a simple story, taking its time and lingering, and I can see something in it.

Photo Credit: Joyce Kim

Magic Magic

Magic Magic is neither magic, nor magic. Alicia (Juno Temple) visits her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) and gets stuck traveling with a group of passive aggressive A-holes who drive her crazy. Brink (Michael Cera) keeps hitting on her, Barbara (Catalina Sandino) gives her pills and everyone forces her to go places that make her uncomfortable and expose her to animal abuse and unwanted sexual advances. Temple gives a good performance as a vulnerable girl stuck with awful people, but it’s a really boring display of douchebaggery. I give Cera props for changing his usual rhythm so we don’t mistake Brink for one of his funny loser characters. It’s just self-indulgent watching director Sebastian Silva traipse around Chile with his actors for his second film this festival (the first was Crystal Fairy). It’s not scary that these characters are so unsettling. It just makes me angry that they exist. There’s a good scene where Alicia’s in a trance though.

Photo Credit: Andres Gachon

Prince Avalanche

After Pineapple Express and Your Highness, David Gordon Green goes back to indie mode with a film basically about two people talking while doing their mundane job. At least it’s light, as opposed to the aggressively depressing Snow Angels. Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are a road crew painting the yellow lines and hammering stakes on the side of the road. Alvin is portrayed as a noble, simple, practical man and Lance is the flighty city boy. Alvin is dating Lance’s sister. Also it’s 1988 because Alvin has to exchange letters with his girlfriend, and the boys are rebuilding the road after the real 1987 forest fire. Alvin and Lance have a funny sort of pathetic relationship, but they’re not quite endearing. They argue about what to listen to while they work, Alvin complains about Lance’s lack of forest skills and Lance brags about his weekend sexcapades. They banter with a truck driver but it’s not quite laugh out loud. There are some nice weird touches, like Alvin talking to a woman exploring the rubble of her own home, and cursive text on the screen once. Those are all fine touches, and if you’re into it you’ll probably like it more.

Photo Credit: Scott Gardner


Sweetwater is a badass western. Sarah (January Jones) gets revenge on the evil Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs) and his men who helped him wrong her. It’s classic lady vengeance myth that doesn’t play any of the cheap modern action heroine clichés. Sweetwater revels in the sleazy side of the old west: blatant racism, unchecked sexual harassment, unaccountable corruption, etc. So it’s not just evil outlaws, it’s people manipulating the system, or lack thereof. This movie could change the way people look at January Jones. The role requires a certain Betty Draper coldness but Sarah doesn’t suffer the fools like Betty has to in the ‘60s. She’s a satisfying action hero, if distinctly more grounded than the Quick and the Dead mode. Her gunfights are all about her posture and attitude, her kill shots are pretty amazing and there’s pure awesomeness in a scene at the river. Josiah is a fascinating villain, using the church to manipulate his henchmen but indulging in base and violent desires himself. Sheriff Cornelius (Ed Harris) enters the fray as an awesome objective party too, kicking excessive ass when a simple strong-arm would have suited the situation just fine, and humor in the business of death. 

Photo Credit: Lorey Sebastian

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Read all of Fred Topel's daily recaps from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival:

Day 2

Days 3-4

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.