Sundance 2017 has come to an end, but with a bang, not a whimper. At the Saturday night awards, films that took on politics and feminism came out on top. And before that, a gathering of women to discuss the path forward turned into a heated discussion about intersectional feminism and race.
Thanks for joining the Los Angeles Times team of intrepid critics and reporters as they navigated art, politics and parties. We Hang out with filmmakers, marched with Chelsea Handler and watched next year’s big films (and festival flops) emerge. See you next year!
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Earlier in the weekend a Sundance programmer introduced a film in the festival’s Next section by saying, “It is the best section of the festival where we show the coolest movies.” That was born out on Sunday night at the world premiere of the Next title “Lemon,” the tartly sweet feature debut for director Janicza Bravo.
Bravo won the festival’s short film grand jury prize with her “Gregory Go Boom” in 2014 and directed an episode of the Golden Globe winning television show “Atlanta.” Before the screening of “Lemon,” Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth introduced Bravo by calling her work “so audacious, so visionary” and adding, “I feel like she should already be a household name. It’s shocking to me that this is her first feature.”
Introducing the film, Bravo said, “I can’t believe this is happening. Hell’s bells. I could … my pants and it would totally be fine, I wouldn’t mind it at all. I’ve wanted this for so long. I really want to say something magical and special right now, but I felt breezy all day and I suddenly feel not breezy at all.
“Thank you to everyone who said yes to me. Thank you to everyone who said no, you jerks,” she added. “I cherish this moment, I have wanted to be in a room like this with people like you having this moment and I can’t believe it’s happening and I get to be a part of it. I will never, ever forget this, unless I have some kind of degenerative brain disease that eats away at my brain then I won’t remember. But until then I will remember.”
Co-written by Bravo and Brett Gelman, the film follows the travails of Isaac Lachmann (played by Gelman) as he undergoes a moment of crisis. His longtime girlfriend (Judy Greer) is in the process of leaving him, the small theater production he is directing isn’t going well, his acting career is stalled and his family is a pit of bad feelings. A woman he meets through work (Nia Long) provides one possible bright spot.
The Sunday night audience burst into applause during the movie after a post-Seder dinner family sing-along of the tune “A Million Matzoh Balls” including Gelman, Shiri Appleby, Martin Starr, Fred Melamud, Rhea Perlman and David Paymer. In the history of Sundance moments of family dysfunction, this may be a new classic.
After the movie Bravo brought up nearly 20 members of the cast and production team, including actresses Long, Greer and Appleby. Bravo noted that she and Gelman, a couple in real life, began writing the project some five years ago.
Gelman continued, “When she came up with the idea for this movie it was sort of a moment in time where we were very nervous about where we were at in our lives,” Gelman said. “It was fear that we had and we felt a lot of people had when you wake up one day and you’re like where am I in my life, how did I get here? I felt like this was going to be different. And do I even have the tools to make it better at all? So we addressed that.”
“They’re really just amalgamations” Bravo added of the characters. “We’re very anxious, and worried and concerned. We read chill, but [we’re] not chill a lot. So all of these amalgamations are of those feelings.”
Composer Heather Christian, a long-time collaborator who has worked with Bravo on her short films and on theater pieces, described how they used instrumentation to reflect the different characters and moods and to reference Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” which is seen being performed by Michael Cera and Gillian Jacobs in a few short scenes.
“It’s a sneaky nerdy kind of way to go slightly askew,” Christian said, in not a bad summation of the film itself.
“Great, solid answer. I like that,” Bravo replied. “That’s my review.”