The Sundance Film Festival is not just a place for swag bags and celebs hanging out for the paparazzi on Main Street. Nope, it’s hard work for journalists and publicists who are often running on fumes as we run through the snow to see the best (and worst) movies that are looking for distribution or buzz. I’m always on the lookout for the awesomest lady-centric films to hype because, let’s face it, they’re few and far between.
As always, Sundance offered some overhyped films, huge hits, and big misses. Luckily, I was there to sort the wheat from the chaff, and while I didn’t peep all of these movies, my trusted friends and colleagues did.
1. Save the Date: This is probably one of my favorite films from the festival. Although on paper this sounds like another white people problems romantic dramady, the writing and ensemble cast bring it to another level. My TV girl crushes Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie star as Sarah and Beth; Sarah is an artist/bookstore manager afraid of commitment and Beth is quickly losing her patience with her sibling’s screw-ups. Beth is also in mini-bridezilla mode planning her wedding to Andrew (Martin Starr). The writing is funny and on point, the sex scenes are intimate and intense, the graphic novel flourishes are cool, and there’s a really cute cat. The ensemble cast really shows that they’re ready to take on bigger projects; it’s cool to see Caplan a little more vulnerable than usual, and Brie a little bitchier than her character Annie on Community. Plus, the cast is stacked with cute boys. “Save the Date” has not yet been acquired — come on, people!
2. For a Good Time, Call…: Ari Graynor, who stole numerous scenes in “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” finally gets a star turn in this comedy about two friends running a phone sex line. She costars with Lauren Miller, who cowrote the screenplay with Katie Anne Naylon; the two drew on Naylon’s own experience talking dirty for cash in college. Yeah, it’s no coincidence that the leads are named Lauren and Katie, even though their real-life friendship isn’t like the contentious one between their onscreen counterparts. Plus, “For a Good Time” features some delish little cameos, because someone needs to call that phone sex line, right? Justin Long plays their gay BFF — remember him in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”? Mark Webber, who appears in “Save the Date” as Caplan’s new beau and wrote/directed/starred in Sundance fave “The End of Love,” shows up as a regular customer. Focus Features snapped it up, but we’re still waiting on a release date.
3. Bachelorette: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan are the worst bridesmaids ever in this black-hearted comedy about three straight-up terrible people who begrudgingly attend their old friend Becky’s wedding. Dunst plays a brittle control freak who resents the fact that her friend, played by Rebel Wilson (who you might remember as one half of the creepy brother/sister roommate duo in “Bridesmaids”), is getting married before she is; Fisher is a dippy retail clerk with suicidal tendencies; and Caplan is a massive cokehead who has one of the most memorable in-flight conversations about blow jobs ever committed to film. On the dude side of things, Adam Scott appears as Caplan’s ex (duh!) and James Marsden shows up as a scumbag. People will compare this to “Bridesmaids” or”The Hangover,” but its politically incorrect and occasionally icky humor calls to mind “Very Bad Things.” “Bachelorette” is definitely not just about girls being as bad or potty-mouthed or horny as guys; it’s about downright effed-up people that will make you laugh uncomfortably. (Or, in the case of one audience member, gasp, “Oh no!”) This is the directorial debut for playwright Leslye Headland, who congratulated us on coming out to a very early screening (we’re talking 8:30 or 9 am, people) and invited us to Tweet questions at her later. Nice! So far this prickly film hasn’t been picked up.
4. Your Sister’s Sister: In “Your Sister’s Sister,” Iris (Emily Blunt) is trying to get her good friend back on track after losing his brother a year ago. Jack (Mark Duplass) is a drunken hot mess, and she kicks his butt into going for a solitary retreat at her father’s cabin in the woods. Unfortunately, her sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is also there recuperating from a broken heart after leaving her long-term girlfriend. More surprises are in store for the trio, and for the audience as well; I actually couldn’t tell what direction the relationships were heading in until the delightful end. What I especially appreciate about writer/director Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”) is that she obliquely addresses the fluidity of sexual identity as a natural part of her storytelling. “Your Sister’s Sister”and its delicious performances pried a few crusty barnacles of grumpiness off my heart. It is being distributed by IFC Films and will be in theaters this June.
5. The Invisible War: Documentarian Kirby Dick is not one to shy away from edgy issues. He’s turned his lens on closed government officials in “Outrage,” the wack-ass MPAA in “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” and the unique life of performer and BDSM enthusiast Bob Flanagan in “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist,” and “The Invisible War” promises to be no less incendiary. Rape in the military is an alarming and pervasive problem, and attempting to bring attackers to justice is even more of a logistical nightmare than it is for civilians. This doc sheds lights on why it’s an epidemic and how it’s being covered up through the stories of several survivors and interviews with people in the government. “The Invisible War” does not yet have distribution; keep your eye on the website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page for more info.