2009 Sundance Diary: Day 3


    Day 3 (Saturday, Jan. 17)

    It was a little past 3 a.m. when I crawled into my very comfortable bed last night, and only 9:00 when I had to expel myself from it this morning. I had to get up because I really wanted to see the movie about the obese illiterate teenager who’s impregnated for the second time by her father.

    The movie is called “Push: Based on a Novel by Sapphire,” and yes, that’s actually the onscreen title, perhaps to distinguish it from “Push It: Based on a Song by Salt ‘n’ Pepa.” It screened at 10 a.m., which is far too early to see a film about an obese illiterate teenager who’s impregnated for the second time by her father, and whose mother fostered the abuse and sees the girl as a rival for her man’s affections. And the abusive mother being played by Mo’Nique? What time of day WOULD be right for that??!

    Lo and behold, it’s a fantastic movie, harrowing in its details but consistently tactful and un-gratuitous in its depiction of them, and ultimately hopeful and redeeming. The 16-year-old Harlem girl in question is played by a new actress named Gabourey Sidibe, and man alive, what a performance. There’s no question about it: She really is very fat. No, also, she’s fantastic — heartbreaking, funny, and unforgettable.

    This screening was at the Holiday Village Cinemas, an actual four-plex movie theater that Sundance commandeers each year. In the past, only one of the screens has been a press venue, with two more venues across the parking lot at the Yarrow, but this year they’ve improved things by making it two at Holiday Village and only one at the Yarrow. The Yarrow’s new seats notwithstanding, them makeshift screening rooms is uncomfortable, so we’re glad to be in actual stadium-seating cinemas whenever we can.

    Holiday Village is part of the Cinemark chain, and Cinemark’s CEO was under fire recently for donating $10,000 to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign in California, which upset the gays. Some groups wanted to boycott Cinemark altogether, but that’s impossible if you’re covering Sundance, because two-thirds of the press screenings are there. The best you can do is just not buy anything at the concessions stand, and I’m onboard with that. I figure a guy who has $10,000 to spend on a political cause — ANY political cause — is obviously burdened with too much money. I wouldn’t want to add to his woes by giving him more.

    Immediately after “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire,” also at Holiday Village, was “The Killing Room.” That’s a pretty good name for a movie because it could be about a room that kills people, or a room that is merely where killing takes place. The possibilities are endless! (OK, not endless. There are two.) It was fun checking in at the press screening, with one of the ushers pointing us to the right theater and saying, “‘The Killing Room’ is in here.” No thanks! I just want the movie-watching room! Which could either be the room where movies are watched, or a room that actually watches movies. Wouldn’t that be something?

    Anyway, the point is, “The Killing Room” is stupid. It’s one of those thrillers about strangers locked in a room together, where alliances are formed and paranoia is manifested and all hell breaks loose. In this case, though, none of the characters are interesting, and nothing interesting happens to them. It has one nifty idea at the very end — so it should have been a taut 15-minute short film, not a bloated 90-minute meh-fest.

    Weinberg and I made our daily visit to Burger King next, after which I went to the Yarrow lobby to write while Weinberg went somewhere else to do something else. (I’m not in charge of him! Read his blog if you want to know what he’s doing.) I hunkered down at a table and did a lot of writing, assisted by the fact that none of the press screenings for the next few hours were of interest to me. I like working at the big table in the Yarrow lobby because it’s right in the middle of things, so lots of friends and colleagues from other sites came by to chat and work, and I don’t feel totally isolated the way I do when I write in the grim loneliness of my apartment.

    Since I was near the entrance to the Yarrow screening room, I was able to observe something new this year, which is that the festival has really committed itself to the word “queue” rather than “line.” “We haven’t opened the doors yet, but everyone is queueing up over there,” etc. Even the sign posted at the queue uses the word “queue.” This is v. British, and I like it. Lends a bit of class to the proceedings, you know? “I need to get in the queue for the movie about the obese illiterate teenager who’s impregnated for the second time by her father.” See?

    Weinberg materialized in time for dinner, and while our pal Childress is usually our boon companion, this year he seems to have acquired a lot of tickets to public screenings and abandoned us. Weinberg and I went to the Chinese buffet place next to Holiday Village, except it’s only a buffet during lunch. For dinner, it’s entrees. Also for dinner: You might sit there for 10 minutes EVEN AFTER ASKING SOMEONE IF YOU CAN PLACE YOUR ORDER before someone actually takes your order. I started to walk out as a matter of principle, but Weinberg observed that the next nearest option was Burger King. So we had to guzzle our food in order to be on time for my next film, “Art & Copy,” a documentary about the advertising business.

    This is a pretty entertaining doc that talks to the ad wizards behind such legendary campaigns as “Got Milk,” “Just Do It,” and “Where’s the Beef?” Some segments are focused on profiling the wizards themselves, as if they were rock stars; this is probably a lot more interesting to people who are in the industry and already know these names. But the rest is fascinating. I noted that almost every successful ad campaign was at one point almost scrapped by the client for being too risky. But as the TV series “Mad Men” has taught us, you need to trust your account executive, especially if he’s sleeping with your wife on the side.

    Immediately after this was “The Greatest,” a melodrama starring Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon as parents mourning the death of their teenage son. There’s one of these every year: a first-time writer/director who gets big stars to appear in a movie that turns out to be a total trainwreck. All the conversations that should be delicate and nuanced are instead awkwardly blunt, and Brosnan and Sarandon, bless their hearts, are cringe-worthy. I sat there for most of the movie with that grimace you get when you want something to be good but you find it embarrassing instead. At other times I was laughing and wondering if it was actually supposed to be a dark comedy. (It wasn’t.)

    My Film.com honcho Laremy sat next to me in “The Greatest,” so we were able to pick it apart ruthlessly in the car on the way back to our condo. He pointed out several plot holes and flaws that I hadn’t even noticed but that I will now claim as my own insights when I write my review. That’s what you get for trusting me, Laremy. That’s what you get.

    Final note: In my bedroom in the condo, there is one of those Indian “dreamcatcher” things hanging on the wall. I don’t know who actually owns the condo, but I’m not sure I like the idea of strangers picking through my dreams after I’m gone. I need to be sure to shake it out before I leave. I assume it’s like cleaning the lint trap on the dryer.