The Best Laughs at SXSW and Sundance: the Danielle Solzman Lowdown

Chicago Indie Critic Danielle Solzman reports to us from SXSW this year with the comedies she loves the most: 

While the early months of the year tend to be a dumping grounds for the studios, there’s a lot to be discovered at film festivals.

Sundance

Hearts Beat Loud is a beautifully made, music-driven film from Brett Haley.  What makes the film work isn’t just the screenplay Haley co-wrote with Marc Basch but it’s the music from songwriter/composer Keegan Dewitt that Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons shine through on screen.  To say that Clemons is phenomenal in this musical masterpiece is an understatement. (Featured Image Credit: Jon Pack)

Clara’s Ghost is the feature directorial debut from Bridey Elliott and offers us an exaggerated glimpse into the life of the comedic Elliott family.  While Chris, Abby, and Bridey may be the more familiar names, it’s Chris’s wife, Paula, who gets a substantial amount of material to work with in the film.  It’s a fun film that’s best watched with a glass of wine in your hands.

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Blockers is the feature directorial debut of comedy writer Kay Cannon.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny and I found myself falling out of my seat during the world premiere at SXSW.  The film offers a teen sex comedy from the female perspective with some great performances.  When it comes to R-rated comedies, this film is an instant classic and joins the likes of so many great films from the Judd Apatow brain machine.

What I love about Summer ’03 is that it comes from a first-time feature filmmaker and is so full of heart, emotion, and comedy.  Becca Gleason has a fresh voice and ought to be around for a long time to come.  It’s actress Joey King who carries this film from start to finish with an amazing performance.  That being said, everyone in the film, including improv pros Paul Scheer and Andrea Savage, get upstaged during June Squibb’s brief role as a dying grandmother whose biggest regret is never learning how to perform a proper blow job.

You Can Choose Your Family takes us back to 1992, where Jim Gaffigan’s Frank Hansen is married to two different women and has two children with both wives.  It’s going great for Frank until his son, Phillip (Logan Miller), discovers his secret and threatens to spill the beans unless his father gives him the money to attend NYU.  There’s times where it feels like the audience knows more than what the characters do and as such, there’s a few OMG moments late in the film.

I’m not ignoring Sorry to Bother You but I’m placing the satire into a category of it’s own.  It’s the new Get Out on so many levels but it’s not an outright comedy or drama.  Somewhere in between to be honest.

29134970_10102083915109720_1906448420_n   Danielle Solzman is a film critic and a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, Galeca: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and the Online Film & Television Association. She also writes for Solzy at the Movies.

Saving Brinton chronicles Michael Zahs’ journey to preserve cinematic history.

SavingBrintonWeb

A small-town Iowan collector cum hoarder, Michael Zahs, attempts to attract as much attention as he can to a treasure trove of American cinematic history in Saving Brinton — a documentary that chronicles his journey to share the contents of a box carelessly marked “Brinton Crap” found in a basement of a farmhouse in 1981.

When it comes to works that document a fanatic’s concern with details, that other people might have a harder time grasping (think Strad Style) this offering blends some awkward moments of rejection with moments of great reception from just the right audiences.

Tommy Haines and John Richard create a straightforward storytelling style makes this documentary one that delivers the facts with just a bit of wry humor.

The technology presented in Saving Brinton is fascinating. There are color projections and moving pieces that seem almost too advanced and complicated for the 1800’s that the Brintons were screening for sold out audiences across the American Heartland — that in many cases were a person or town’s first exposure to the moving picture.

But, unfortunately for Zahs, it seems people aren’t as interested in the minutiae of Victorian history as they used to be, unless they’re academics or film fanatics. The film literally depicts someone walking out on him as he’s explaining the painstaking detail of a Brinton production. Perhaps it’s a bit passe to be in love with the fruits of colonization that excluded other groups these days, even when they’re technological advancements. Maybe it’s just hard to capture an Iowan’s imagination.

I don’t get it. I’m certainly fascinated.

Zahs eventually makes some traction with the public once he screens the films at the oldest continually-operating cinema in the world — where they originally once did. That’s a long journey for films that almost made it to a dump if it weren’t for his intervention.

This offering out of Northland Films can currently be seen in Texas on Saturday 10/7 as part of Dallas VideoFest DocuFest.