Alex Williams, in a feat of movie-going stamina, saw six movies on Saturday at the South By Southwest Film Festival. Here are his six short recaps:
The story of a teacher (Lindsay Burdge) carrying on an affair with one of her students could be brainless titillation, but “A Teacher” director Hannah Fidell brings astounding focus to what proves to be a fascinating but ultimately unrewarding film. Burge gives a powerhouse performance as the titular rulebreaker, and watching her dig her own grave and love every minute of it is a riveting train wreck in slow motion. Fiddell directs with remarkable economy, and the film’s percussive score is jarring but magnetic, but “A Teacher” continues an unfortunate trend in independent cinema of ending just as its central conflict kicks into high gear, resulting in a film that’s gripping when it wants to be but narratively unfulfilling.
“A Teacher” screens again Sunday 3/10 at 9:30 and Thursday 3/14 at 11:15.
“The Bounceback” posits itself as a romantic comedy about Stan’s (Michael Stahl-David) quest to win back ex-girlfriend Cathy (Ashley Bell) over one weekend in Austin, Texas, but the film is really a love letter to our fair city. Austin locales feature in almost every scene, with major sequences of the film taking place in the Alamo Drafthouse and various 6th Street bars, all of them lovingly brought to the screen. Writer/director Bryan Poyser has made “The Bounceback” slippery by design, and the film dances around paying off its premise for much of its runtime, ultimately becoming something very different than you might expect from the tagline. It’s an surprisingly mature film, boasting a hilariously committed performance from Sara Paxton, and a low-stakes greatest hits tour of Austin TX.
“The Bounceback” screens again Sunday 3/10 at 9:45, Friday 3/15 at 9:15, and Saturday 3/16 at 4:00.
When he’s not making irreverent studio comedies, David Gordon Green brings a certain poetry to his work, and his tale of two road crew workers, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend’s brother Lance (Emile Hirsch), is Green at his most elegant and relaxed. “Prince Avalanche” is a gentle, contented comedy, full of observant writing, and Hirsch and Rudd give a lovely duet of performances. Rudd is uncharacteristically restrained here, but as unabashedly likable as ever, and Hirsch is hilariously dense as the city boy itching to get out of the Bastrop backroads. The intimacy that builds between the pair by the end of the film feels earned, and David Gordon Green’s emphatic, languid film explores isolation and loneliness touchingly.
“Prince Avalanche” screens again Thursday 3/14 at 9:00.
Neil LaBute, adapting from his own play, writes “Some Girl(s)” with his wit at its sharpest and his radar for exposing the ugliest of human behaviors at its most alert. Adam Brody stars as a nameless man who jets around the country during the planning of his wedding, reconnecting and clearing the air with a variety pack of ex-girlfriends. Each conversation pulls back another layer of Brody’s psyche, and these women hold a mirror up to him with their own picture of what he is, each of them slowly filling in a blank until we fully understand his character. It’s subtle, intelligent writing, starkly directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, and greatly realized by the film’s ensemble. From Kristen Bell’s sharp wit to Zoe Kazan’s adorable fragility to Emily Watson’s weathered bitterness to Adam Brody’s unshakable charm, “Some Girl(s)” is a spectacularly acted exploration of fidelity, memory, and forgiveness.
“Some Girl(s)” screens again Monday 3/11 at 9:15, Tuesday 3/12 at 9:30, and Friday 3/15 at 1:30.
I Give it a Year
The rare anti-romantic comedy, “I Give it a Year” is an interesting, subversive film that depicts the standard courtship in reverse. As the film begins, Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) get married, and over the course of their first year together, the soft edges of their relationship begin to harden and chafe, making them both increasingly unhappy. While the idea of a marriage dissolution comedy is a strong one, “I Give it a Year” suffers from some debilitating problems. Namely, it’s near impossible to root for two characters that are slowly but surely poisoning a life they’ve attempted to build together, and since the film never gives us a look into their courtship, there’s nothing to invest in here. “I Give it a Year” has a very British sensibility, and the film’s sharp, witty script is full of hilarious payoffs and clever moments, but the work as a whole is caustic, without a human moment to be found. It’s easy to laugh at these characters, but very rarely are we laughing with them, or for them.
“I Give it a Year” screens again Sunday 3/10 at 4:30, Tuesday 3/12 at 4:30, and Wednesday 3/13 at 4:15.
In its early going, “Haunter” seems like “Groundhog Day” filtered through teen angst, but once Lisa (Abigail Breslin) realizes that she’s trapped on the eve of her 16th birthday because she and her family are dead, the film starts to pick up. Vincenzo Natali brought a magnetically twisted perspective to “Splice,” his last film, and “Haunter” is magnificently creepy, tackling chilling material with enthusiasm. Abigail Breslin has the entire film on her shoulders, anchoring every scene, and she displays an emotional rawness and force of will that I haven’t seen from her before. It’s a strong performance from a young actress still coming into her own, and promises more great things from Breslin in the future. While “Haunter’s” logic can sometimes get a bit muddled, the film never loses sight of its emotional core, the story of a girl forever trapped as a 15-year-old, which may be a fate worse than death.
“Haunter” screens again Wednesday 3/13 at 11:45 PM.