Day 6: February 2, 2021

I made it to my final full day of screenings! I’ll be catching up on a few awards winners on the official last day of the festival, and I’m also working on a short wrap up post; so keep your eye out for one more dispatch after this one. Thanks for following along.

On day six, I explored the U.S. Dramatic Competition category, choosing three films I had heard positive things about after their premieres. First up, I watched Nikole Beckwith’s surrogacy comedy Together Together, starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison. Helms plays a single man in his forties who wants to have a child and start a family, in an inversion of the usual stories about ticking biological clocks; Harrison plays the twenty-something woman he chooses to carry his child. This thoughtful little situational comedy explores the (platonic) relationship that develops between the two main characters. I found the film to be totally lovely and emotionally honest, and Helms and Harrison shine as two lonely people who strike up an odd-couple friendship under unusual circumstances.

Marvelous and the Black Hole (written and directed by Kate Tsang) brought me back into coming-of-age indie dramedy territory (after CODA on day one). Delightful newcomer Miya Cech plays Sammy, a rebellious thirteen-year-old who’s struggling to deal with her grief over her mother’s death. Through happenstance, Sammy meets Margot (Rhea Pearlman), a whimsical children’s magician. Over the course of a summer, Sammy and Margot become unlikely friends. The story hits familiar beats, but, as with CODA, the particulars are charming. 

Jockey also traces a familiar story arc, that of an aging athlete coming to terms with the end of his career and facing his own mortality. Clint Bentley, who wrote and directed the film, grew up in the horse racing world and brings a sense of authenticity and specificity to his portrayal of it. Character actor Clifton Collins, Jr. gives an excellent performance as the titular jockey; his work elevates the whole film to the next level.

My least favorite film of the day had to be First Date (NEXT), Manual Crosby and Darren Knapp’s early-Tarantino homage. The program notes describe the film as “Superbad meets True Romance,” and that about sums it up. Although the teenage leads add that coming-of-age element, the film is otherwise very much of a piece with the many, many Tarantino knock-offs from the late ‘90s. I suppose that the ‘90s are far enough past that this kind of movie counts as a throwback now, but Crosby and Knapp didn’t introduce any fresh or unexpected elements to liven things up. I wanted to like this one more than I did.

I only watched one documentary today: Egyptian filmmaker Ali Al Arabi’s Captains of Zaatari (World Documentary Competition). This understated film follows two teenagers, Syrian refugees living in the world’s largest Syrian refugee camp, as they try to get out and become professional soccer players. They get scouted by a Qatari sports academy, and the movie goes from there. This observational, subdued film allows many of its largest thematic concerns to flourish in the margins and remain almost unsaid. This restraint ultimately makes the film more powerful, subtly commenting on the way that real life doesn’t hit the triumphant beats of Hollywood sports movies. Similarly, the difficulty of life in Zaatari is implied through the boys’ fervent desire to transcend their circumstances, but the film doesn’t revel in misery. The film is ultimately a delicate look at the power of hope.

That’s all for day six! Check back in for my final Sundance 2021 diary.

 

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