Our annual Sundance Curiosities column takes a look at various movies and filmmakers from the upcoming Park City festival worthy of anticipation. This year, the column is being written by members of the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Fellowship for Film Criticism, who will also review films during the festival.
Director Lynn Shelton, whose film "Touchy Feely" premiered at Sundance in 2013, will be back in Park City this year with "Laggies," written by novelist and first-time screenwriter Andrea Seigel and starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell. Showing in the out-of-competition Premieres section, the film is described in the official Sundance announcement as “a coming-of-age story about a 28-year-old woman stuck in permanent adolescence.” While a coming-of-age story (e.g., "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn") about a twenty-eight-year-old woman (e.g., Keira Knightley) sounds like a contradiction in terms, it's a timely spin on a timeless genre, and "Laggies" promises to be an exciting addition to a recent string of movies that examine the condition of the modern young woman.
In last year’s "Frances Ha," Noah Baumbach’s mumblecore-like ode to the French New Wave, twenty-seven-year-old Frances blindly pursues an evidently unrealistic dream of being a dancer until her housing, financial and career prospects are all virtually nonexistent, and she just can’t postpone the reality of adulthood any longer. At one point she apologizes for not having a credit card: "I'm so embarrassed; I'm not a real person yet." Lena Dunham has made a name for herself portraying this phenomenon almost exclusively, with her 2010 feature "Tiny Furniture" and on television with HBO’s "Girls," which is about a quartet of college-educated twentysomethings, but is notably not titled "Women."
Absurdly prolific indie director Joe Swanberg, whose "Drinking Buddies" and "All the Light in the Sky" both came out in 2013, will also be exploring this theme with his feature "Happy Christmas" at Sundance in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Set around the holidays, it stars Anna Kendrick as a young woman who, after breaking up with her boyfriend, moves in with her brother (Swanberg), his wife (Melanie Lynskey, who starred in 2012's "Hello I Must Be Going," another Sundance film about a girl who gets dumped, goes home and grows up) and their two-year-old son. "Happy Christmas" also features Mark Webber and — naturally — Lena Dunham, filling out a cast of rather famous faces, much more in line with "Drinking Buddies" than the director's earlier, lower-profile films. In another departure, digital enthusiast Swanberg chose to make "Happy Christmas" on Super 16mm film, working with "Beasts of the Southern Wild" cinematographer Ben Richardson.
Finally, writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland will make her feature film debut with "Song One," also showing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance and starring Anne Hathaway as another young woman with some growing up to do. The synopsis reads: "Estranged from her family, Franny returns home when an accident leaves her brother comatose. Retracing his life as an aspiring musician, she tracks down his favorite musician, James Forester. Against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s music scene, Franny and James develop an unexpected relationship and face the realities of their lives."
Like "Laggies," "Song One" was written and directed by a woman and is notable for its A-list leading lady; similar to "Happy Christmas," its plot revolves around a young woman going home to her brother; and it shares its setting of artsy hipster Brooklyn with "Girls" and "Frances Ha." Considering the backdrop of Brooklyn's music scene (music for the film was written by former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, who are known together as the duo Jenny and Johnny) we can expect to hear Hathaway sing again, as she did in her Oscar-winning turn in 2012's "Les Misérables" — and considering that she "faces the reality of her life," we can probably expect that self-expression through music reunites her with her estranged family and enables her to move past her arrested development.
In the 2012 series premiere of "Girls," Lena Dunham’s protagonist Hannah, an aspiring writer, famously told her parents (in an effort to convince them to continue bankrolling her lifestyle), "I think that I may be the voice of my generation…or at least a voice of a generation" — a line that is often quoted to describe Dunham’s own career.
This year at Sundance, three more voices will join the conversation.