Sundance 2022 Review Day 1: 'When You Finish Saving The World' and 'Emergency'
Courtesy of A24/Sundance Institute
Welcome to TheOnlyCritic’s continuous Sundance Film Festival coverage, each day we’ll file an article with information and reviews of the films screened during the fest. Below is Day 1
WHEN YOU FINISH SAVING THE WORLD
Getting the 2022 iteration of the Sundance Film Festival off to a wonky start in the Premiere’s section, Jesse Eisenberg’s aimless and uninspired directorial debut “When You Finish Saving The World” doesn’t know which lane to pick. Part coming-of-age dramady/part woke statement on tween culture/part estranged mother/son story anchored by two overdirected performances from the usually reliable Finn Wolfhard and Julianna Moore, “When You Finish Saving The World” is a mixed bag of emotions. In front of the camera, Eisenberg has made a solid name for himself and I’m always eager to champion and see new emerging voices behind the scenes, but this angsty and flimsy written screenplay (also penned by Eisenberg) desperately needs a tune-up.
The film begins in a domestic abuse shelter which the recluse Evelyn (Moore coming across desperate, needy, and generally off putting) oversees. Her son, Ziggy (Wolfhard - whiney) is an aspiring singer/songwriter who has amassed 20k followers on a live streaming website through his “Folk rock music with alternative infusion.” His lyrics aren’t that great so I’m not sure why anyone logs on to listen to him, but he sure loves telling the kids at school about his exploits (and followers!). Obviously Ziggy’s online persona is much different than the one based in reality (juxtapose that with Evelyn’s shelter and home life) but the amount of times he’s got to remind everyone (especially his crush, Lila played by Alisha Boe) about those 20k followers grows tiresome. It’s no wonder Lila, who participates in weird activist after-school sessions where kids perform slam poetry about social and political issues, wants nothing to do with him.
Meanwhile, Evelyn strikes up an unnatural and unhealthy relationship with Kyle (Billy Bryk), a young boy currently staying at the shelter, whom she’s trying to groom as if it were her own son. She awkwardly brings him supper after hours, gives unsolicited college advice, and shows up at his school out of the blue and takes him to Ziggy’s favorite restaurant. Frankly, it all made me cringe and Eisenberg show no sense of grasp and, at 84-minutes, no sense of time either. “When You Finish Saving The World” plays like a melodramatic white dude soap opera without any flavor or believable stakes. Here’s hoping Eisenberg steps behind the director's chair in the near future as there’s some touching moments here, but he needs a script with a story that’s worth telling.
WHEN YOU FINISH SAVING THE WORLD debuted in the Premiere’s section of the Sundance Film Festival. A24 plans to release it later this year.
Debuting in the US Dramatic Competition, Carey Williams’ “Emergency” is adapted from the short of the same name that premiered at Sundance a few years ago. Trying to create a timely resonance around the recent epidemic of unarmed black men being gunned down and/or killed by police officers, “Emergency” follows two best friends/roommates: Sean (RJ Cyler) and Kunle (Donald Watkins) who, before they’re about to commence the “legendary tour” which is basically a frat house party crawl, stumble upon a passed out white girl in their living room.
Instead of calling the cops, Sean and Kunle (and eventually the third roommate Carlos played hilariously by Sebastian Chacon) decide the optics of two black men standing over an unconscious white girl would probably land them in jail. This begins a wild night that’s a cross between buddy/dark comedy and race-against-the-clock thriller as they earnestly try to get the young woman some help.
“Emergency” scavenges predictable terrain and tries to offer dueling perspectives on the current state of police brutality. The message is read loud and clear even if the execution feels a bit muffled and/or forced. Some of the humor, especially that of parading around an unconscious woman didn’t always land for me (In some instances the girl is treated like a rag doll and several times the guys joke about leaving her on the street). At least the chemistry between the three amigos, specifically Cyler and Watkins, helps wash down the rough patches. You can tell within the first ten minutes this is a duo who have known each other for years. Some of their rationale might be questionable, but you’ll still end up rooting for them either way.
EMERGENCY debuted in the US Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival. Amazon Studios will release the film later this year.
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All above photos courtesy of the Sundance Institute.