January 29, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “Call Me By Your Name,” “Fun Mom Dinner,” “Before I Fall” & “Wind River”


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Sony Classics):  Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous gay romance has been anointed as the Sundance entry most likely to figure into next year’s Oscar race, and it’s easy to see why.  It combines the appeal of traditional prestige drama (James Ivory, who practically invented the modern version of that genre, is even a producer and co-screenwriter here, the latter with Guadagnino and Walter Fasano), with the contemporary touch of its relaxed attitude toward sexuality, even though the story is set 30 years ago.  The film details the summer love of Oliver, an assistant of archeologist Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), with Perlman’s teen son Elio (Timothee Chalamet).  The settings, rapturously photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, are in and around the Perlman villa in Northern Italy, the bodies drip with sweat or water from their frequent swims, and Elio is a multi-faceted prodigy who plays his own invented variations on classical music at the drop of a hat.  In case that wasn’t luxe enough, the score also features original songs by Sufjan Stevens.  Guadagnino is more after a mood here than an intricate drama, and the skeptical among us may note that there’s much less going on than in his previous films I Am Love and A Bigger Splash despite the 130-minute running time.  There’s no denying the fine work of the actors, however (Stuhlbarg has a knockout father-and-son scene in the last few minutes), or the beautifully executed artistry of its vision.

FUN MOM DINNER (no distrib):  Last year’s Bad Moms amply demonstrated the market for stories about the things mothers only wish they could say and do, and Fun Mom Dinner is a worthy successor.  The bonding moms this time are a former lawyer who misses her old life (Katie Aselton), her tightly-wound best friend (Toni Collette), a mom who’s newly single (Molly Shannon), and one who can best be described as the group’s Melissa McCarthy (Bridget Everett, all but stealing the show in her first big feature role).  Fun Mom Dinner is less gimmicky than Bad Moms (there are no real antagonists here, “good” moms or otherwise), and its general standpoint of tolerance extends even to a couple of the spouses (Adam Scott and Rob Huebel), who get to have their own voices too.  First-time feature director Alethea Jones, working from a script by Julie Yaeger Rudd that isn’t afraid to be smart as well as silly, keeps the jokes coming over a brisk 89 minutes, and allows all her stars chances to shine.  It’s a bit of a puzzle why this audience-pleaser still lacked a distributor when Sundance was over, and admittedly without any big star names the marketing may require an extra push, but this one should prosper at box offices if not on critics’ Top 10 lists.

BEFORE I FALL (Open Road):  Although respectively directed and written by indie stalwarts Ry Russo-Young and Maria Maggenti, this is nothing more than a YA Groundhog Day with ten times the sentimentality and one-tenth the humor.  This time it’s teen Sam (Zoey Deutsch) who keeps repeating the same day over and over, although in this case it’s apparently the day of her death.  And once again, the difficult task on the way to closure (Sisyphus is repeatedly invoked, in case we miss the point) is to become a Better Human Being.  Deutsch is an appealing lead, and the many variations among the days allows her to play Sam as everything from a meanie to a saint.  As the story winds itself down into a treatise against bullying and for the fair treatment of misfits, though, it all starts to feel like an idea that wouldn’t even have clicked on CW.  Despite their indie credentials, the filmmakers manage little here to suggest dimensions beyond the dogmatic source material.

WIND RIVER (Weinstein?  Published reports differ on whether that’s a closed deal or not):  Following his scripts for Sicario and Hell Or High Water with his debut as a writer/director, Taylor Sheridan continues his streak of intelligent, exciting crime dramas.  This one involves a body found gloveless, barefoot, raped and dead in the snowy wastes of a Wyoming Indian reservation, investigated by a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a Fish & Wildlife hunter (Jeremy Renner) with his own reasons for wanting to track down the killer.  There’s a whiff of Longmire around the plotting, including the ultimate solution to the mystery, but Sheridan gives even the minor characters dramatic strength.  In the lead, Renner is as good as he’s ever been–weathered is a look that suits him.  Olsen has something of a thankless role, the character who gets everything wrong and has to have it all explained to her (by men), but she finds a core of steeliness in the role.  Sheridan makes good use of the locations (a grittier version of the environment of Walking Out), and when the action scenes arrive, he stages them for maximum impact.  Wind River doesn’t go as deep as Sicario or Hell Or High Water–it’s more of a procedural.  As a genre piece, though, it’s high quality.

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."