Cinephiles are flocking to frosty Park City in Utah for their fill of indie films. By now Sundance, which takes place from January 18 through to January 28, is in full swing, with studios and streamers eager to snap up titles to fill their calendars, lightened by the 2023 Hollywood strikes. So what's on the menu this year? Malia Obama makes her directorial debut with short film The Heart, while Kieran Culkin appears in his first role since Succession. As for the rest of the films from Sundance that have piqued our interest? Keep scrolling.
My Old Ass
If the name alone isn't enough to hook you, a cast which includes Aubrey Plaza, Maisy Stella (yes, that Maisy from the Call Your Girlfriend cup song cover) and Maddie Ziegler might just do the trick. The film is a crowd-pleaser at Sundance and The Guardian said it felt as though it could be "based on a slightly cruder than usual YA novel". It follows Stella's Elliott, a recent high school graduate who is spending her final weeks before college smoking weed and hooking up with a local girl, leaving her family to grieve her soon-to-be absence alone. That is until she meets and older, wiser version of herself (Plaza) at a party and comedy ensues. I hear there's a Justin Bieber cover, too.
Steven Soderbergh's latest film is about a haunted house, and the unfortunate family enmeshed, from the perspective of a ghost. Julia Fox has a memorable scene as the real estate agent selling the property, while Lucy Liu and Chris Sullivan star as the parents of a son and daughter (Eddy Maday and Callina Liang), the latter of which is grieving the death of her friend while navigating the uneasy "presence" in the home. As we watch the story unfold from the ghost's point of view, we witness a family in crisis.
Saoirse Ronan returns with a strong performance in The Outrun, an adaptation of Amy Liptrot's 2016 memoir of the same name. Art about addiction can be formulaic, rolling through cycles of recovery and relapse, but it's cliche that becomes the foundation for The Outrun to spring from. Ronan's character returns to her hometown in Orkney to dry out, the timeline jumping between vignettes of her old life and the present. The film also stars I May Destroy You's Paapa Essiedu.
The directorial debut of music video director Jack Begert, with Darren Aronofsky onboard as producer, Little Death is set in LA and follows two storylines. David Schwimmer's character is a screenwriter on the brink of a breakthrough (or breakdown) while in a taco truck Talia Ryder and Dominic Fike are seeking out their high. At some point, the two stories intersect with tragicomic force. Karl Glusman, Gaby Hoffmann and Jena Malone also star.
Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine follow up their 2020 documentary Boys State with a look at the sister mock government program for aspiring young students in Missouri as it unfolds across a week. What quickly becomes apparent is that the boys program is more organised, official and comes with the blessing of real life politicians. Meanwhile, the girls, once they get past the fluffy feminist cheer, are left to their own devices with a few strict rules: cover up, always go outside with a buddy. At the same time, the leaked Dobbs draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade weighs heavily on their minds.
With original music from Phoebe Bridgers and Caroline Polachek, Jane Schoenbrun has created an original world for the two main characters, played by Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine to exist. In the movie, teenage Owen is introduced to The Pink Opaque, a TV show he soon learns ninth-grader Maddy is also a fan of this enigmatic series. A tale of fandom, both its comforts and extremes, I Saw the TV Glow is being praised for its unique point of view.
A Real Pain
Jesse Eisenberg directs and stars in road movie, A Real Pain, alongside Kieran Culkin in what is his first role following five years portraying Roman Roy in Succession. It follows cousins Benji (Culkin) and David (Eisenberg) who, in the wake of their grandmother Dory's death, are honouring her by using their inheritance to fund a trip to Poland with plans to visit the home she lived in before 1939 when the Nazis swept through. Both are chalk and cheese, but bond on the tour, during which they're joined by three Americans and a Rwandan refugee and led by a nerdy tour guide played by Will Sharpe. It's existential and moving.
Billed as a romantic revenge thriller and set in the 1980s, Kristen Stewart takes the lead as a gym manager named Lou. When Jackie, played by Katy O'Brien, a bodybuilder stops through the Nevada town on her way to Las Vegas to pursue her bodybuilding dreams, the pair falls in love. But their steamy romance takes a dark turn when the lovers become entangled in Lou's criminal father's underworld of violence, murder and chaos.
Malia Obama, under her creative name Malia Ann, has taken her 18 minute short The Heart to Sundance. It's a fable about grief, loneliness and regret, where "a man leaves his mother's heart on a metro bus". Starring Tunde Adebimpe as Josh and LaTonya Borsay as his mother Anita, the film is produced by Donald Glover, who Obama worked with for his limited series Swarm.