So, Sundance 2018 has come and gone, much like the flu that I caught while I was in Park City, and the whole damn industry is left to pick up the leftover tea leaves and try to read them. You never know what will become a big ol’ hit and shock the world (what’s good, Call Me By Your Name) and what might turn out to be some hot garbage that clutters up multiplex screens come August (we see you Patti Cake$). But that never stops people from trying.
There are a number of films that I’m personally bummed that I missed while I was down there. That’s normally true with any given festival, but especially so this time, given that my illness caused me to leave before I could see stuff like Sorry to Bother You or Tyrel or Hereditary or Eighth Grade (let it be known that I would have stayed longer if I could have walked across a parking lot without feeling like I was going to faint). Thankfully, all of those will be seeing some sort of major release at some point later on this year, and who knows? They might even make an appearance at this year’s IFFBoston if we’re lucky enough.
That said, I’m extraordinarily pleased with what I did manage to see at the festival this year, and I have a weird feeling that at least one of the films featured — Lynne Ramsay’s astonishing You Were Never Really Here — will endure its way to my top ten list at the end of the year, give or take some sort of Cannes insanity.
But there are still some small reviews to get out of the way, for some damn solid films and a few mediocre ones, from the ones with the biggest buzz to the small ones that surprised everybody with their quiet power. So that’s a wrap on Sundance 2k18, but we’ll be feeling the effects of this one for a while.
Normally people walk out of Sundance singing Paul Dano’s hosannas for his work as an actor, but this time around, they were all freaking out about his directorial debut. And, sure enough, all of those industry tastemakers were right on the money. An adaptation of a Richard Ford novel, Wildlife tells the story of the Brixton family — dad Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), mom Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) — at the start of the 1960s, having just moved to Montana on the promise that Jerry would have a stable job tending golf courses. That job, of course, falls through, and the father enlists to fight the yearly brushfires, leaving Jeanette and Joe to fend for themselves for months at a time.
This shattering of expectations causes Jeanette to re-examine her life choices, oftentimes destructively so, and we witness all of this through the eyes of Joe, old enough to start to understand the pain that lies behind the facades of his parents. To put it bluntly, Mulligan is incredible here, given the mature role full of tragic, complicated vivre that has so often eluded her, and she’s brilliantly devastating when combined with the calm and quiet Oxenbould, who comes from a similar understated school of acting as his director.
Cinematographer Diego Garcia does an excellent job at capturing the 60’s in the kind of washed-out and flat way that we’re used to the era looking like in modern productions, evoking Malick and company in their portrayals of suburban life without ever feeling like he’s ripping a specific artist off, and there are single shots in this as accomplished as anything Emmanuel Lubezki’s composed in several years. Yet it’s the engine — a killer screenplay — that keeps Wildlife compelling. Dano, in adapting the script along with co-writer Zoe Kazan, chose the right moments to hone in on, and there are throwaway lines here that are better than much of the acclaimed writing you’ll read about from this festival. I was caught in the throat by a small thing that Gyllenhaal, who is a fantastically warm paternal presence, says to his son before leaving him to fight the fire, and it knocked me off my feet for the rest of the film. To put it mildly, Wildlife should be on your radar for the coming year, and it’s an astonishing debut by Dano, who I can’t wait to see more from.
Also, Wildlife features a supporting performance by the great Bill Camp, and if he has a fan club of balding film critics and a few weird people on Twitter like I assume he should (they should be called “Campers”), I’d highly recommend you get your tickets early.