January 27, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “Band Aid,” “The Discovery” & “Golden Exits”


THE DISCOVERY (Netflix):  Charlie McDowell’s first film was the ingenious metaphysical farce The One I Love, so there was plenty of reason to eagerly anticipate his follow-up.  He (and, once again, co-writer Justin Lader) return to some of the same philosophical territory again with The Discovery, but with less pleasing results.  The main action is set 2 years after famed scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) has revealed his findings that some form of existence does continue after physical death, news that prompts millions to commit suicide with the knowledge that they aren’t facing a final end.  Harbor’s estranged son Will (Jason Segel) arrives at his father’s compound to try to convince him to withdraw his findings, a mysterious woman named Isla (Rooney Mara), who he’s just saved from suicide, in tow.  Disturbed to find that his father has taken on an almost cultish leadership role, Will and Isla are drawn into their own investigation of what happens in that post-death existence.  McDowell and Lader are nothing if not ambitious, but the decision to forego nearly all humor, and to ground the film’s romance in part with a character who announces herself unable to feel or express emotion, makes Discovery much less fresh and enjoyable than The One I Love–even its twists are variations of mind-benders we’ve seen before.  Segel, in an atypical serious role, is quite good, Redford makes use of the morally ambiguous tone he tried out in the Captain America sequel, and Mara may almost be too well cast.  In an alternate reality of McDowell’s career, however, he would make some different decisions about how to undertake his sophomore film.

GOLDEN EXITS (no distrib):  Alex Ross Perry is the most literary-minded of the current indie auteurs, his most notable work to date being the Philip Roth riff Listen Up Philip.  His new effort is constructed with exacting care, a narrative about interrelated, angst-ridden New Yorkers that includes matching sets of siblings, deteriorating marriages, spurned advances, and inappropriate relationships, with each character defined so as to know some but not all of the connections between the others.  You have to admire the craft of it all, as well as Perry’s hyper-articulate dialogue, but centering the story around motifs of airlessness and stasis make for a dry viewing experience.  (At its worst, Golden Exits–the title refers to an impossible ideal of separating oneself cleanly from the family that makes one miserable–recalls Woody Allen’s failed neo-Bermanesque dramas like September and Another Woman.)  The ensemble cast, however, is exceptional, including Emily Browning as the beautiful young Australian whose arrival on the scene sets everything in motion, ex-Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz as her employer, Jason Schwartzman as a family friend, and Chloe Sevigny, Mary-Louise Parker, Analeigh Tipton and Lily Rabe as the pairs of sisters.  Perry appears to hit exactly the goal he’s set for himself, but he’s aiming at a niche of a niche.

BAND AID (no distrib):  Anna (Zoe-Lister Jones, who also wrote and directed) and Ben (Adam Pally) are a young married couple in LA whose squabbles are starting to become serious when they have an inspiration:  form a band and turn their fights into songs.  It’s a great idea for a movie, too, and Lister-Jones makes it even more delicious when the pair add their very strange neighbor (Fred Armisen) as their drummer.  The aspect of Band Aid that will be debated is its fairly sharp left turn into raw drama during the third act, scenes that are played with all-out intensity by the two stars but make an uneven fit with the mostly lighthearted tone of the opening hour.  However one’s mileage varies as to that choice, though, this is an impressive debut.  Lister-Jones has loaded her script (and the original song lyrics) with wit, and she directs with a strong sense of pace and the guts to shoot the single darkest sequence in an almost unbroken lengthy single take.  The LA setting, verite visual style and post-marriage narrative make this almost the anti-La La Land, concerned more with reality than dreams.  As such, it will lack the Oscar favorite’s wide appeal, but it has its own stubborn integrity.


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."