Nobody on the Film Misery team may have the time or the funding to brave the chilly mountains of Sundance this year, but that doesn’t mean we cant gaze from afar at the films that will be coming our way in the coming year. I’m willing to bet this moment that a couple films premiering over the next several days will appear on our Best of 2013 lists a year from now, and possibly chip at Oscar’s tough skin as well.
Unlike most festivals, though, things aren’t surging out of the gate with a big premiere. A pair of mellow titles eked out of the opening night of the festival, one being the first of two Michael Cera films helmed by Chilean director Sebastian Silva. Fully titled Crystal Fairy & the Magic Cactus and 2012, the film has understandably been dividing critics either pleased or put off by its drug-addled cheer and Cera’s continued onscreen persona. One caught in the middle was Eric Kohn of Indiewire.
Silva’s expert direction, aided by Cristián Petit Laurent’s handheld cinematography, creates an intimate feeling that lends a loose feel to the proceedings. That’s fine until “Crystal Fairy” encourages the expectation that its scenario will develop. Instead, as Jamie’s mean-spirited regard for Crystal creeps toward an inevitable eruption, the movie loses momentum.
Kyle Smith of the New York Post found himself close to despising it, but found himself further charmed by the film.
I initially hated the Michael Cera slacker comedy “Crystal Fairy” and very nearly joined the steady stream of walkouts, but something kept me in my seat, possibly my amazement at how repellent Cera is willing to be. The film pulls a U-turn in the last act, though, which forced me to reevaluate the whole story.
Finally, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter evoked that perhaps the film’s universal weakness lies in Michael Cera’s waning charms.
A more calculating commercial director could have ramped up such material’s comic component tenfold, especially by expanding the roles of the three brothers; Silva’s greatest failing lies in having declined to provide his brothers with distinct characters and anything worthwhile to do, so they all remain ciphers. Cera’s Jamie is deliberately annoying for much of the time and scarcely likeable, although the final impression is that some improvement is possible for the young man. Hoffmann’s Crystal is a distinctive creation, a seeker who might not be that bright either but whose dedication to the search cannot be questioned. It’s a self-effacing, pretty out-there performance.
Moving on to a markedly different tale in the sun was Amreeka director Cherien Dabis’ follow-up May in the Summer, a wedding drama Guy Lodge of In Contention found to be only “intermittently affecting”.
The highs of “May in the Summer” — even the title, complete with meaningless pun, suggests a smaller screen — are higher than that fizzless feminist screwball effort, however, not least because Dabis’s concessions to the mainstream arguably shadow the characters’ own triumphs over self-marginalization. It’s not church-related prejudice, in the end, that factors into Nadine’s resistance to her daughter’s wedding as much as untargeted maternal paranoia. She doesn’t have the religion, yet she doesn’t have the truth either; the same might be said for this sympathetic but scattered film.
The aforementioned Eric Kohn of Indiewire, meanwhile, felt the film transcended its chick flick tendencies.
Its storytelling alone makes “May in the Summer” stand out from the industry standard for this form of pre-wedding drama, but the movie also impressively avoids making a big deal out of its milieu. The presence of old world values and Middle Eastern strife only occasionally comes into play as one of many organic forces intrinsic to the environment. In one telling moment, a pithy squabble between the sisters is interrupted when a low-flying fighter jet passes overhead, but it mainly serves to place the superficial nature of their argument in context.
Rounding things out with Justin Chang of Variety, he was torn between the positive and negative attributes of Dabis’ film.
Having explored a Palestinian woman’s difficulty assimilating into U.S. culture in her winning 2009 debut, “Amreeka,” writer-director Cherien Dabis flips the script to more ambitious but less satisfying effect in “May in the Summer.” Observing the upheaval that ensues when an Arab-American bride-to-be returns to the family homestead in Amman, Jordan, this warmly conceived but largely formulaic picture is by turns sensitive and shrill, culturally perceptive and overly broad in its dysfunctional-family melodramatics.
Keep up with us as we continue to gather these encouraging perspectives as the Sundance Film Festival heads into full swing!