January 21, 2022

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance 2022 Reviews: “When You Finish Saving The World” & “Fresh”


It’s the second consecutive Virtual Sundance, with safety, convenience and isolation in place of weather, shuttle buses and community.  Over the next several days, we’ll be bringing you reviews of several Sundance premieres, some of which will find their way into theaters, with more likely to make their public appearances via VOD and streaming as the mid-budget and indie markets continue to shrink.

WHEN YOU FINISH SAVING THE WORLD (A24 – opening TBD):  Jesse Eisenberg’s first film as a writer/director feels remarkably like what one might have predicted his debut to be.  As an actor, Eisenberg often projects a mix of acute insecurity and off-putting arrogance, and the same can be said for his protagonists here, a mother and teenage son who are to the eye universes apart and yet in deeper ways painfully alike.  Evelyn (Julianne Moore), who runs a women’s shelter in a small Indiana town, has given her life to service, while Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) is devoting his time to composing and performing goofy songs over the film’s equivalent of TikTok where, as he will be the first to tell you, he has 20,000 followers.  Each of them has pure contempt for the other, which they (barely) hide behind extreme passive-aggressiveness.  At the same time, each betrays a longing for the other’s approval by pursuing substitutes, mostly in cringe-worthy ways:  Evelyn through Kyle (Billy Bryk), the son of one of the women at the shelter, and Ziggy via his politically committed classmate Lila (Alisha Boe).  Eisenberg goes a lot of things right as a first-time filmmaker, giving When You Finish a swift 88-minute pace and drawing excellent performances from the fearless Moore and Wolfhard, and with special credit to Jay O Sanders, who makes every one of his lines count as the family’s mostly ignored husband/father.  As a writer, though, Eisenberg is so enamored of his narrative symmetry that the result can feel airless, with little opportunity for the actors to reveal any complexities in their roles that don’t fit his master plan.  That accentuates the fact that the humor he finds in his characters can be merciless to the point of cruelty.   When You Finish Saving the World feels passive-aggressive in its own right, a self-consciously comic version of an angrier movie Eisenberg hasn’t yet made.

FRESH (Searchlight/Hulu – March 4):  Mimi Cave’s film is part of the Sundance Midnight program, so it doesn’t seem like too much of a spoiler to say that it very much isn’t the rom-com that it initially appears to be.  When singleton Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones, from Normal People) has a meet-cute with Steve (Sebastian Stan) in the produce section of her local supermarket, and he seems too good to be true… he absolutely is.  However, giving away more than that is tricky, because Lauryn Kahn’s script takes its time before showing all of its genre cards, and so when the bottom falls out on Noa, it’s a truly sickening plunge.  Suffice it to say that Edgar-Jones shows enough range to stake a claim at being not just a prestige TV presence but a bona fide movie star, and that Sebastian Stan follows up on his nutso turn in The Bronze to show that he’s more than happy to use his leading-man looks for whatever a role requires.  There’s also striking supporting work from, among others, Jojo T. Gibbs as Noa’s best friend and Charlotte Le Bon as a key someone in Steve’s life.  Kahn’s screenplay navigates the tonal challenges of telling a modern romance that becomes a (literally) brutal and sometimes shockingly funny commentary on the subject.  Cave, whose first feature this is and who’ll be hearing comparisons with Jordan Peele, keeps total control of the work’s many shifts, and remarkably manages to keep the proceedings buoyant even when the story becomes very grim.  Fresh is exactly the kind of low-budget, young-skewing entertainment that’s been able to find an audience in theaters even during Covid, so the apparent decision to bring it straight to Hulu may be leaving money on the table for a movie that would likely draw screams and laughs from a packed house.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."