The only way to cure a movie-watching hangover is to keep watching movies, and that’s exactly what I did on day four of the Sundance Film Festival. As mentioned in my day three recap, female characters are a central thread through the slate of films playing at this year’s festival, and day four’s line up wasn’t any different. These three movies show women in different stages, grasping for their place in the world, and becoming the change they want to see.
Cha Cha Real Smooth comes from filmmaker and actor Cooper Raiff. Even with a quick glance of the film’s synopsis (and my paraphrased rehash) you’d think it’s about the lead male: 22-year-old Andrew (Cooper Raiff) is back home from college, he uses his partying skills to become the perfect candidate for a job party-starting at the bar and bat mitzvahs. He meets single mom, Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola, and falls for something he could never have. At the core of this story is how Andrew interacts with women in his hemisphere and how their relationships impact him. He’s gentle and caring and listens (sometimes), which all stems from a rocky childhood being raised by his bipolar mom, played by the effervescent Leslie Mann. Cooper outweighs the bad with the good in how he approaches character development – everyone is messy, and that’s OK. What really stood out to me was Domino. She is someone that underneath all her insecurities and anguish, wants a safe and steady home for both her and her daughter Lola. It’s a parallel for Andrew’s mom, she struggled with her mental health but always wanted the best for her family. We can see why Andrew is immediately attracted and protective over Domino, but also his immediate kinship with Lola, pulls at the heart strings. At the end of the day, it’s a love story, that happens teeter on the backbone of mental illness and the struggles that come with it. But at the heart of it all, it’s the respect for the women that have struggled and endured, and the respect and understanding we should give them as a society.
Krystin Ver Linden hit’s it out of the park with her feature directorial debut, Alice. This movie opens with a primal scream, where Alice (Keke Palmer), an enslaved woman yearning for freedom and has witnessed a lot of unnecessary bloodshed and punishment perpetuated by the plantation owner. Moments later, we’re whipped into the 70s, a wonderful surprise – the camera work, framing and editing on this film is something else. Alice is a strong-willed woman, eager and determined to plot her revenge against the white family (and their ignorance) that unrightfully claimed Alice and her family as their property, while cementing her freedom in America. Krystin is a visionary – she has a clear, poignant and stylized voice. One can only hope we see more from her in the coming years. As well as the incredibly steadfast and talented Keke Palmer, who served as a producer - to the powers that be, let’s continue to give Keke what she needs so that she may continue doing what she does best as an artist and voice – we’ll all be better for it.
God’s Country had its online premiere, hailing from director Julian Higgins, co-written with Shaye Ogbanna. It centers on Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) who is grieving at the loss of her mother, while coping with the daily uphill battle she encounters as a professor at a local college. Her sense of peace and independence is upended when two men trespass on her property to go hunting. After a few attempts in asking them to not park on her property, her past life instincts kick in and she takes matters into her own hands. It’s a thriller through and through, but what’s the most thrilling is that of being a woman. The mindset of being a woman – the battles, the uneasiness, the scariness, the need for respect and independence, and feeling secure. Both Julian and Shaye tap into this character in ways you wouldn’t think two men would be able to – I’m sure Thandiwe had a creative hand in developing her character as well, bringing her own personal touch to this powerful character. Luckily, we’ll get to know more soon about the writing duo’s creative approach to this film with an exclusive interview coming soon!