January 26, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “Rebel In the Rye,” “Newness,” “Landline,” “I Don’t Feel At Home,” “Ingrid Goes West” & “Walking Out”


REBEL IN THE RYE (no distrib):  Danny Strong’s first film as a director is a biography of J. D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult), and it hits all the Salinger bullet points:  his early struggles to get published, his spectacularly doomed romance with legendary playwright’s daughter Oona O’Neill (he lost her to Charlie Chaplin), his difficult tour of duty in World War II that included D-Day and the opening of concentration camps, his massive success with “Catcher In the Rye,” and his eventual absorption in Buddhism and seclusion.  It all feels that dutiful, a sequence of events with little insight beyond Salinger occasionally using words like “lousy” and “phony” so we’ll remember what he wrote.  The material doesn’t give Hoult more than an opportunity to look continually tortured by one crisis or another, and the only one in the estimable supporting cast (Sarah Paulson, Victor Garber, Hope Davis, Zoey Deutsch and more) who makes an impression is Kevin Spacey as Salinger’s ultimately hapless mentor.  The film is more of a Cliff Notes to Salinger’s life than a cinematic equivalent to what he brought to the American literary landscape.

WALKING OUT (no distrib):  An elemental tale of survival in the wilderness by the writing/directing team of Alex and Andrew Smith.  David (Josh Wiggins) is a child of divorce who lives most of his time with his mother in a Texas city.  For one week each year, though, his father Cal (Matt Bomer) gets to bring him to Montana and instruct him in hunting and the rules of being a man.  On this particular occasion, David is meant to graduate from grouse and other birds to bringing down his first moose, but things don’t go as planned.  Bomer gives a well-judged performance that de-emphasizes the Great Santini-ness of the father, and Wiggins is convincingly more and more agonized as events transpire.  The movie is almost entirely the two of them, although Bill Pullman appears in flashbacks as Cal’s own hunter father.  The landscapes are beautiful and brutal as photographed by McMullen, and the film is an accomplished piece of work within its limits.

INGRID GOES WEST (Neon):  Matt Spicer’s social media nightmare (co-written with David Branson Smith) brings new technology and mores to the world of Single White Female.  Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is a shell of a woman who attaches herself to “friends” she meets on Instagram and other apps, convincing herself that she is indeed an integral part of their lives.  She brings her mania to a new level when some money comes her way and she moves to Los Angeles to be close to Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whose every purchase and style choice becomes Ingrid’s ideal.  There are a lot of interesting things going on in this script, including some reveals about Taylor herself, and Plaza gives her all to the most ambitious big-screen role she’s had to date, but Spicer and Smith never quite get a handle on the story’s tone, which wavers between farce, menace and soap (although they do find the right button for their ending).  The whole cast is worthy, and special note is due to O’Shea Jackson, Jr as Ingrid’s pawn and quasi-boyfriend, who is pure hilarious charm.  Someone give this man a real rom-com!

LANDLINE (Amazon):  Gillian Robespierre’s dramedy, co-written with Elisabeth Holm, feels exactly like the backdoor pilot to a cable series about a dysfunctional family in New York circa 1995, and in these days of Better Things, Transparent and Fleabag, that’s not an insult.  Edie Falco and John Turturro are the parents, and their daughters are Jenny Slate (who starred in Robespierre and Holm’s Obvious Child) and Abby Quinn.  (For a real reminder of Transparent, Jay Duplass plays Slate’s fiancee.)  There are adulteries, instances of reckless behavior, and a great deal of soul-searching, but under it all the family really loves each other, and they’re gonna be OK.  That makes the result sound more mundane than it is:  the script is filled with genuine wit, and Falco and Turturro are as well cast against each other as you’d think.  Robespierre and her production personnel hare also done a wonderful job of recapturing the technology and pop culture of 20 years ago, when Helen Hunt’s outfits on Mad About You were a reasonable punchline and high-end cassette players could play Sides A and B without the need to remove the cassette.  Landline may be more enjoyable than profound, and that’s no sin.

NEWNESS (no distrib):  Despite all its on-screen texting and featured dating apps (and semi-explicit sex), Drake Doremus’s latest Sundance entry (written by his usual collaborator Ben York Jones) tells a surprisingly old-fashioned, even conservative story.  Even in 2017, it seems still to be the case that a relationship will benefit more from honesty and fidelity than duplicity and other partners.  In style, Newness is very like Doremus/Jones’s Like Crazy, the couple here being Martin (Nicholas Hoult again, scruffier this time) and Gabi (Laia Costa), and the general tone semi-improvisational in the search of larger truth.  An important difference, though, is that while Like Crazy ran a trim 86 minutes, Newness is over a half-hour longer, and those drifting, repetitive conversations take their toll after a while.  More importantly, while Hoult and Costa are very beautiful people, and their individual performances are sensitive and genuine, they don’t have anything like the on-screen spark that Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones brought to Like Crazy, and their problems are much more familiar.  Newness rises to life at times, and Danny Huston has a killer scene opposite Costa late in the game.  In the end, though, it suffers from a fundamental oldness.

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (Netflix):  Macon Blair’s directing debut (as an actor, he was the lead in Jeremy Saulnier’s dazzling Blue Ruin) reaches for a Coen Brothers-like mix of black comedy and bloodbath, and he’s far from the first filmmaker to discover how tough that is to achieve.  Nevertheless, this is a promising start with some startlingly funny sequences.  Blair is added immensely by his stars:  Melanie Lynskey plans Ruth, a woman whose everyday misery reaches its tipping point when her house is robbed (apart from the Coens, the Michael Douglas vehicle Falling Down is relevant here); and an almost unrecognizable Elijah Wood is Tony, the local ninja-wannabe who aids Ruth in her vigilante search for the culprits.  Lynskey grounds the script’s wilder bursts, and just about everything Wood says and does is laugh-out-loud nuts.  The violence mounts, but it doesn’t have the style of the Coens (or Saulnier, for that matter), and the characters get more frenzied, but not in an inspired way.  As a whole, the film feels more like a calling card than a polished statement of director’s intent.

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."