Dispatch from SXSW 2010: Kick-Ass, Cold Weather, and Cyrus
While the South by Southwest festival may remain the uniquely good time that industry and locals alike have come to cherish, there have been a few hiccups this year as the festival staff has tried to wrap their minds around how to logistically deal with a 25% increase in ticket sales. To wit: a line three blocks in length for opening night film, Kick-Ass, which, to be fair, was probably just as much a result of cult status of the Mark Millar comic book from which it was adapted as festival planning. Kick-Ass’s unconsidered filmmaking and clunky, self-consciously hip writing laid bare its makers’ lack of ingenuity, and Aaron Johnson, the handsome, broad-shouldered young actor playing Dave Lizewsky and his titular alter-ego also stretched believability as a hapless every-nerd. At least this was true for the film’s first half. By the third act, Kick-Ass evolved into the cheeky fanboy superhero movie it promised, featuring ingenious action sequences and a surprisingly thoughtful meta-critique of aestheticized violence.
Lines were almost as long for Cyrus, the latest offering from the Duplass brothers (The Puffy Chair, Baghead), otherwise known as the poster boys of “South By.” The film follows lonely divorcé John, played by a charming John C. Reilly, as he develops a relationship with Molly (Marisa Tomei) and, by extension, her unnaturally attached son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who eyes John warily. Throughout, the filmmakers struggle with reconciling their naturalistic, bobbing-camera aesthetic with higher production values and big-name actors, and the story unravels and meanders. By the film’s anticlimactic end I felt as though the Duplasses had written themselves into a conflict they didn’t know how to resolve. The overall effect was one of wholesale awkwardness.
Cold Weather, the third offering from Aaron Katz (Dance Party, USA; Quiet City), easily ranks as the highlight of the festival thus far. The film features Katz’s signature strengths—thoughtfully composed shots, an innately gentle, lingering approach to character—while also significantly upping the production ante. Katz risks tackling genre: his disillusioned twentysomething hero subtly and believably morphs from just bouncing aimlessly around Portland to amateur sleuth solving the urgent mystery surrounding his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance. The shift is no mere gimmick; the detective antics work not only to propel the movie forward but also to bring the protagonist and his sister past their initially uneasy relationship. It’s also a terrific watch—Katz has been justly recognized for visually making the most of a small budget, but some of the shots in Cold Weather are not just impressive, but actually baffling if one wonders how they were obtained. In one scene we see our protagonist and his ex girlfriend languishing pensively on a bridge in front of a majestic waterfall. Slowly the camera begins to zoom in, closer, impossibly closer, somehow revealing both the details of the scene while maintaining the initial sense of grandiosity. The moment was magic, and there were many more such moments to come. —Farihah Zaman