Picture it. You're shivering outside in a blizzard, looking out at snow-capped mountains. You should be curling up by a fireplace. You should be skiing. You should be in Florida. Instead, you're standing in line for an hour just to see a movie featuring the star of MTV's Teen Wolf.
Welcome to the Sundance Film Festival, where thousands of people descend upon sleepy Park City, Utah, in the spirit of independent filmmaking. (Well, that and the sight of random celebrities like Nick Lachey and Bachelor Ben Flajnik amble down Main Street in snow boots). Of course, there's a distinct difference between catching a movie and catching a Movie With Buzz. Which is why I recently spent five days zigzagging around town to sit in on 14 premieres. Some great, others…not so much. (Sorry, Teen Wolf).
As the festival wraps up, here's a breakdown of the five biggest surprises:
1. Seth Rogen's Wife is Hilarious too: Her name is Lauren Anne Miller, and she co-wrote and stars in the bright, truly funny For A Good Time, Call…. She plays a doe-eyed overachiever who decides on a whim to start up a phone-sex hotline with her saucy new roommate (Ari Graynor). The two leads share a madcap chemistry that rarely gets pulled off in female-centric comedies (fine, other than Bridesmaids). And, amazingly, none of the R-rated gags come cheap. Can't wait to see it again.
2. A solid thrill can still trump angsty drama OK, Black Rock isn't The Silence of the Lambs. It's not even Scream 2. But it works as a lean-and-mean chiller. Three childhood friends (Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and Katie Asleton) reunite for a campout on an empty island off the coast of Maine. Goonies reference here, a fight over boys there. But a series of simple mistakes -- it's killing me not to spoil it -- leads to a terrifying fight for survival. Despite a few eye-roll-inducing developments, I watched the movie with the press notes covering my face.
3. Who knew these TV stars were so talented? Props to How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor, who wrote, directed and stars in the cerebral comedy Liberal Arts. It's all too easy to relate to the tale of a burned-out 35-year-old New Yorker (Radnor) who travels back to his college alma mater to recapture the glory days of his youth. He ends up falling for a sophomore (Elizabeth Olsen) in a hurry to grow up. How refreshing to see a budding relationship that involves classical music, handwritten letters and a love of books. Extra credit to Radnor for his witty takedown of a certain vampire trilogy. Meanwhile, Parks & Recreation star Rashida Jones shines in the bittersweet rom-com Celeste & Jesse Forever (which she co-wrote). She and Andy Samberg are high school sweethearts utterly devoted to each other -- yet decide to separate anyway. It's a bit uneven and contains four too many endings, but there’s a natural charm to Jones' story.
4. There's a movie star named Mark Webber: A wispier-looking Ryan Gosling, this soft-spoken actor stands out in three films: For A Good Time, Call…, Save The Date and, most impressively, The End of Love. The latter -- which he wrote and directed -- is a poignant, intensely personal drama in which he plays an out-of-work actor (named Mark) and widower struggling to take care of his toddler (played by his adorable real-life son, Isaac). Webber admirably captures the travails of underperforming in a cut-throat business and single parenthood. Cameos by Michael Cera and Amanda Seyfried add to the movie’s naturalness. Here's hoping Ryan Seacrest interviews Webber on the red carpet in the near future.
5. Bachelorette is no Bridesmaids. Not even close. So much for buzz! Touted as a must-see movie of the festival, this limp wedding-themed comedy has all the wit and originality of a cake-cutting ceremony. So a Type-A maid of honor (Kirsten Dunst) and her pals (Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan) gather in NYC to celebrate the nuptials of their overweight friend— but their relationships fall apart during the rowdy bachelorette party. Obnoxious strip club scene? Check. Fat girl jokes? Check. Dunst licking a sidewalk? Don't ask. As the night (and the movie) wears on and the three bridesmaids do coke, get high, vomit, yell and sleep with the groomsmen, it’s a wonder why the cheery bride wants anything to do with these skinny beeyotches in the first place. For an actual good time, see Lauren Anne Miller's movie instead.
- Josh Radnor