Sundance 2022 Day 4 Review: 'Cha Cha Real Smooth,' 'Alice' You Won't Be Alone' and more
Courtesy of the Sundance Institute
SOMETHING IN THE DIRT
The type of antagonizing incoherent gobbledygook that will please their most ardent fans and leave everyone else searching for scraps, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “Something in the Dirt” is an often frustrating mockumentary/comedy/sci-fi hybrid trying to be “The X-Files” meets “This is Spinal Tap.” Instead, “Something in the Dirt” stays hung up on several ideas, blabbing and belaboring mute points and topics until your head is spinning trying to wrap your head around the film's objective. Of course, you’d have to look hard to find one, because on first pass, I couldn’t make sense of half the movie.
Benson and Moorhead make strange and bizarre films, but “Something in the Dirt,” while commendable for taking some, uh, swings, is too abstract for its own good. Benson and Moorhead play John and Levi, two schmos living in a run-down apartment complex in LA who become bonded by a rare supernatural emblem that may or may not have monetary value. From there, “Something in the Dirt” leaves no loose ends or ideas untouched. And what we’re left with is a scattershot, overlong and tireless exercise that didn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for others. Especially those who appreciate Benson and Moorhead’s idiosyncratic sense of humor.
SOMETHING IN THE DIRT debuted in the Next section of the Sundance Film Festival. It is seeking distribution.
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH
Proving his directorial debut “Shithouse” was no fluke, Cooper Raiff’s sophomore feature “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is a wholesome and charming comedy/drama about finding love and overcoming the messiness of your twenties. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” finds strength in the down to earth approach bolstered by Raiff’s knack for writing honest dialogue mixed with relatable emotions and circumstances. His characters never feel half-baked, but lived in personifications of people with whom we’ve crossed paths with our entire lives. It’s a warm hug of a movie I never wanted to end.
Raiff lends his pitch-perfect comedic timing playing Andrew, a down-on-his luck 22-year old who’s post college life includes working at a local meat stick kiosk and debating with his mom and step-dad (equally memorable turns from Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett) about where to go next. He inadvertently finds it when attending a Bar Mitzvah and gets the party (and dancing) flowing as the unofficial hype man. It’s also where he meets Dakota Johnson’s Domino and her autstic daughter Lola (Vaness Burkhardt) with whom he takes great affection and their relationship immediately sparks.
If Raiff's presentation of Andew and Domino’s relationship (she’s struggling/vulnerable with her fiance working all the time in Chicago) is messy then that’s the point as life constantly throws curveballs. Johnson and Raiff have incredible chemistry and the conversations around depression, anxiety and love is some of the best writing this festival has seen. Additionally, the tender moments Andrew shares with his younger brother (played by Evan Assante)-who is currently dealing with girlfriend struggles-brings “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which borrows its title from the DJ Casper 2000 anthem, full circle. Grab a blanket (and the tissues).
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH debuted in the US Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.
Inspired by true events, Krystin Ver Lindel’s “Alice” is a messy drama about a slave in the antebellum South named Alice (played with ferocious energy by Keke Palmer) who escapes her planation only to discover it’s the seventies where Richard Nixon is president, hoop earrings are in style, and the civil rights movement is still cooking. If you remember, the Janelle Monae starrer “Antebellum” distastefully dealt with a similar narrative to lackluster results. “Alice,” isn’t as exploitative or cringey as “Antebellum,” but the execution feels muffled and begs the question: why are filmmakers drawn to this topic in the first place?
For starters, “Alice” is a rushed to the finish line type of movie where questions are answered in quick montages and the growth of Alice never feels completely earned. When she accidentally stumbles into the real world (like it’s the twist from M. Night Shyamalan's “The Village”) there’s no true sense of discovery. I’d imagine it would take much longer than a day or two to fully comprehend the scope of what happened to her. A standoff inside a diner with one of her captors and a pulpy, “Django Unchained” meets “Proud Mary” finale are high marks but they come at the expense of a story that doesn’t know how to service its main character.
ALICE debuted in the US Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival. Vertical and Roadside Attractions will release it later this year.
YOU WON’T BE ALONE
Those expecting a straightforward character drama cut from the same cloth as “The Witch” should steer clear from “You Won’t Be Alone,” an ambitious, often gorgeous folklore that gets caught in the same repetitive loop trying to examine the psychological state of several different personalities. Directed by Goran Stoelveski and set in 19th century Macedonia, “You Won’t Be Alone” follows Nevena (played by Noomi Rapace for some of the film), a shape-shifting witch who can transform into the bodies of her victims by gutting and consuming them, though mostly sticking to woman, Nevena (who is sometimes played by Anamaria Marinca) occasionally ingest men to understand the power dynamics.
The movie continues this episodic cycle for the entirety of the film, sometimes moving at warped speed and the sleepy ASMR narration used throughout the film will do minimal for viewer patience. Comparisons to Terrence Malick and Robert Eggers are all but inevitable, yet neither of their films ever felt as punishing as this. In the end, “You Won’t Be Alone” is a jarring and occasionally shocking endeavor equipped with a unique visual flair that doesn't leave much for the viewer to embrace.
YOU WON’T BE ALONE debuted in the World Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival. Focus Features will release it later this year.
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All above photos courtesy of the Sundance Institute.