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Today from Sundance, Eric Kohn gives snapshot reviews of “500 Days of Summer,” “Moon” and “Peter and Vandy.”
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: “500 Days of Summer”
“500 Days of Summer” is one of those quirky Sundance comedies that will show up at the festival until the end of time: A playful relationship comedy with broad strokes of bittersweet commentary, a simplistic crowd-pleasing sensibility and name actors whose names are synonymous with festival indies that aren’t actually indie. Produced by Fox Searchlight, “500 Days” revolves around greeting card designer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his not-quite girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel), who develop a strong emtional and physical bond, but can’t quite figure out how to define their relationship. Tom falls for Summer’s cutesy looks and temperament, but Summer has a problem with long-term commitment. The movie jumps back and forth between the solemn aftermath of their affair and its halcyon days, but the complex structure can’t hide the highly conventional nature of the material. “Memento” this is not.
Although not consistently hilarious, it’s hard to deny the movie’s basic charm. Director Marc Webb uses a handful of jokey techniques to create a sense of levity throughout the story, and it’s these moments that work beyond everything else in the mostly cliche-ridden plot. A brilliant post-coital dance sequence (presumably taking place within Tom’s head), coupled with a split screen sequence in the final act, suggest the potential of a subtler film. Nevertheless, “500 Days” still manages to be smarter than the industry standard for this brand of whimsical fluff. [Eric Kohn]
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: “Moon”
Sam Rockwell gets a chance to showcase his broad performative range in the minimalist science fiction drama “Moon,” directed by Duncan Jones in the vein of the genre’s classic entries. Set in the near future, when Earth’s main source of energy comes from the moon, the story is refreshingly low key. Rockwell, essentially the only physical member of the cast, plays an astronaut about to finish up his solitary lunar duty and return to his wife on Earth.
Or is he? When the character accidentally discovers a live clone of himself near his base, it becomes increasingly clear that his terrestrial superiors have a shadier agenda behind their energy generation. Rockwell gets several scenes to interact with his double, smartly complicating the theatrical component of the movie by introducing low level special effects that directly service the plot. The exterior shots, exclusively made with CGI, work well enough as eerie props to supplement this dark story of corporate exploitation.
Rockwell’s only co-star is a computer called Gerty, voiced by Kevin Spacey in a detached performance that unavoidably evokes HAL from “2001” — but the acting achievement of the movie undoubtedly lies with Rockwell. Based around his diverse exclamations in multiple roles, “Moon” has a slow, steady pace that exclusively lies with the actor’s intense investment in the role(s). The pace is lethargic — perhaps more than it should be, given the confusing plot. But Jones nevertheless offers a welcome alternative to mainstream sci-fi. Nathan Parker’s visually-oriented script nails the genre’s original appeal: Before it wows you with special effects, it forces you to think. [Eric Kohn]
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: “Peter and Vandy”
A pointlessly disjointed romantic comedy, Jay DePietro’s “Peter and Vandy” never gets as clever as the filmmaker clearly wishes it could be. DePietro’s script, based on his own play, investigates the ups and downs of young New York lovers Peter (Jason Ritter) and Vandy (Jess Weixler), whose reasons for staying together seem constantly out of focus. Although both actors put considerable effort into creating distinctive characters, any impact from these performances is lost due to the oddly nonlinear plot design: DePietro jumps back forth to different time periods in the relationship with little regard for coherence or narrative effect. At one moment, Peter and Vandy are happily embarking on their inaugural date; then, they’re squabbling about why things won’t work out.
Theoretically, this type of progression could develop a rhythm of its own, but DePietro’s dialogue has virtually no permanence. When a lengthy argument scene involves the semantics of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know something isn’t working right. When the movie returns to the PB&J conundrum several scenes later, it becomes clear that there was nothing working in the first place. [Eric Kohn]