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Sundance 2013: The Round-Up Part 3

Posted on Wednesday January 23, 2013, 20:45 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance 2013: The Round-Up Part 3

The female-directed comedies at this year's Sundance have been a marked improvement on previous years, and I will skate over the unendurable Ass Backwards – another spin on the Romy & Michelle formula, this time with two dim-witted best friends revisiting the beauty-pageant world of their childhood – to get to the really rather wonderful In A World.... Written by and starring Lake Bell, this small but very charming comedy takes place in the competitive world of Hollywood vocal talents, and begins with a tribute to the king of voiceover artists Don LaFontaine, who died in 2008. From here, we meet Carol (Bell), daughter of Sam (Fred Melamed), who is widely regarded to be the fruity-toned successor to LaFontaine's mantle. Carol has been struggling as a part-time voice coach in her father's shadow, but when the trailer for an new tween-lit quadrilogy is mooted, Carol decides to put in her bid to narrate it, going up against hot newcomer Gustav (Ken Marino).

Though it has some excellent in-jokes, cameos and industry references, In A World... could be set in any other business, really, since it spends more time on Carol's relationship with her sister and their father, who has taken up with a young girlfriend they snidely call “the groupie”. Like a more female-friendly Zoolander, or even Dodgeball, it uses the underdog formula to great effect, but the real fun is in the interconnecting and mostly very likeable characters. Bell's comedic style, like a less annoying Miranda Hart, lends itself well to the chaos-surfing nature of the narrative, and the whole adds up to one of the most enjoyable finds of this year's festival.

Another find is Metro Manila, a realist crime drama made by a British director Sean Ellis in an entirely Filippino setting. My first instinct was to describe it as The Raid as made by Michael Winterbottom, and, though that might be a little glib, it does go some way to describing its expert combination of genre and naturalism. It begins in the provinces, where farmer Oscar (Jake Macapagal) and his wife find that the price of rice has dropped, making his work no longer viable. Taking their savings, he moves his family to the big city, Manila, where they become easy prey for con men and crooks. Then, just as their situation becomes unbearable, Oscar is offered a job as a security guard as partner to the generous Ong (John Arcilla), who takes him under his wing.

The film takes a little while to get started, and were it not for a brutal shooting in the pre-credits sequence this could easily be taken for an earnest migrant drama. Slowly, though, the story starts to reveal itself, and when the two men take collection of a safety-deposit box full of money from an obvious small-time gangster and coke dealer, Ong plants the seed of corruption in the straitlaced Oscar's mind. Though it remains unshowy, with the occasional blast or mere threat of gun violence, Ellis's script sets up a quietly brilliant third act, in which Oscar is forced to choose between the moral high ground and the bidding of a man who has been so good to him. How it pans out you'll have to see for yourself. Suffice to say, I couldn't see any of it coming, and I found this to be one of the best films of the festival, poetic, authentic and damn near perfect.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Lovelace, however, is only as good as it could ever be, a good-looking but a little too-clean biography of Linda Lovelace, the poster-girl for 70s porn. Amanda Seyfreid makes a decent job of the title role, transitioning from an uptight 21-year-old Floridian to the sexually open wife of a small-time pornographer. Lovelace's life story is famously contradictory, since she later disowned the porn world – which for a brief moment became mainstream, thanks to the success of her signature film Deep Throat in 1972 – and claimed that she was forced into it by her then-husband Chuck Traynor, played here by a very hirsute Peter Sarsgaard. Rather than try to make sense of it all, the directors smartly decide to have it both ways, first indulging the popular image of Lovelace as a proto-feminist trailblazer and, after a scene in which it is revealed that she is writing her autobiography, telling the story again, with Lovelace as victim of the tyrannical Traynor.

That neither version of the story fully convinces is part and parcel of the Lovelace myth, but it doesn't really matter, since the film's true object is to show that she survived it. Seyfreid plays both Linda's sympathetically and convincingly, but it is a measure of the true darkness of this somewhat whitewashed story is that Chuck Traynor is a deeply unpleasant character in both.

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