Sundance 2012 – batch 3

If the bombastic American Pie was the “Hound Dog” of losing-your-virginity movies, the subdued The First Time is the “Love Me Tender”. The two young leads meet with a long and believably awkward first conversation, and initially seem mismatched. But over the course of a weekend, they find a fragile emotional connection. That gradual warming is the most interesting aspect, and is executed with what seems like the right amount of clumsiness and embarrassment. The level of dialog is generally entertaining, as it falls somewhere in the large gap between how interesting characters should talk and how teenagers actually talk. Unfortunately they’re still teenagers, so that’s the demographic that might enjoy this film. C+

A depressed divorcee mopes around her parents house for a while and then perks up as she develops a somewhat scandalous relationship with a guy who is a bit too young. Hello I Must Be Going presents an impressive mix of insightful writing and refined performances, especially by Melanie Lynskey as her character comes out of her funk, reaches closure with her ex, and ultimately moves on. The female empowerment message in this simple story is right around Lifetime movie level. B-

Fans of a renowned author have filled an auditorium, and they listen as he begins to read from his latest work, which describes how a certain book came to be written, and the story-within-a-story that he tells has its own flashback. That ambitious story telling device is executed with some skill in The Words, a small indie movie that feels bigger than it is due to multiple settings and time periods, and a first rate cast. Though Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana shine at times, only Jeremy Irons finds a way to make his character memorable. And it all arrives at the end a bit dog-eared, a few chapters short of the masterpiece it tried to be. B

Standup comedian Mike Birbiglia portrays a slightly fictionalized version of himself in verite effort Sleepwalk With Me. His character struggles with a sleeping disorder, with his relationships, and with life on the road in pursuit of stand-up gigs. There are some laughs and pleasant moments, though not enough. In contrast, Louis C. K. is mixing stand-up and fictionalized-life struggles in his series on cable channel FX with a more inspired subversion and edgier laughs. C+

The hook for Smashed is the fiery performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a school teacher struggling with a drinking problem. This is a modern, less severe take on the grim subject explored so well in the classic “Days of Wine and Roses”, and though it has some incendiary moments it never rises to that level. B