With most of the big premieres behind it, it is Sundance Film Festival 2023 shifts into a lower gear ahead of its final day on January 29. Those still with snow boots on the ground pack multiple showings into each day, along with Park City locals and hard-working party volunteers. Anna Camp, Jane Levy and Will Pullen were among those promoting Angus MacLachlans A small prayer, and Ben Whishaw, fresh off his second Sundance premiere Bad behaviorshowed up to support Ira Sachs’ big return to Sundance, passenger.
In acquisition news, passenger will receive distribution from Mubiwhile A small prayer went to Sony Pictures Classics and A24 added to its already full list with Danny and Michael Philippou’s busy horror film Talk to me. Flora and son was acquired by Apple TV+, the first streamer to win the Oscar for Best Picture CODA— the first Sundance title to win that award. Could one of this year’s premiers be next season’s award winner? Read on for capsule reviews for Flora and son and two other films worth putting on your radar.
Flora and son
Director: John Carney
Actors: Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Orén Kinlan, Jack Reynor
John Carney’s latest ode to the power of music, Flora and son may be the most conventional film on offer at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and that’s by no means a mark against it. Attendees trudging through snowy Park City from artistic drama to artistic drama are sure to appreciate its warm embrace, and so will audiences elsewhere when it inevitably becomes an instantly beloved release. Starring an irresistibly charming Eve Hewson as a young Irish mother raising her delinquent son (Orén Kinlan) and discovering her innate musical instincts thanks to a virtual guitar teacher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), this is the kind of film made for to generate smiles from ear to ear.
There’s plenty of sour mixed with the sweet, especially thanks to Hewson’s booming intensity, and Carney and Gary Clark’s original songs are to die for. You know that thing where a music movie has to include a songwriting montage and the big reveal of that song has to serve as the emotional climax of the whole story? With Flora and sonlike Once before that, there’s no doubt that the resulting musical performance will deliver the feel-good goods, and have you clapping as the credits roll. (Jack Smart)
Going Varsity In Mariachi
Directors: Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn
It might sound like a backhanded compliment, but Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborns Going Varsity In Mariachi is a thoroughly enjoyable documentary. Presumably built in the spirit of underdog sports docs (although this one focuses not on athletics but on high school mariachi competitions), this South Texas set wears its heart on its beautifully pressed sleeves. Shot over the course of a school year, this heartwarming film follows Edinburg North High School’s Mariachi Oro as they practice and compete in various mariachi auditions. Along the way, Vazquez and Osborn introduce us to several of its members, who must juggle their everyday lives with the often grueling commitment that mariachi practice requires.
Some of these storylines (including that of the teacher leading the mariachi ensemble) are gripping more for their familiarity and mundanity than anything else; the well-trodden beats here feel less like a miss than the whole point. To Going Varsity In Mariachi is a celebration of a musical culture that, as the Doctor reminds us again and again, has a long history of letting South Texas teenagers find their voice through the music of their culture. (Manuel Betancourt)
Director: Jacqueline Castel
Cast: Bobbi Salvor Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Stephen McHattie
Jacqueline Castel’s 80s-influenced romantic horror film is painted in shards of intense red light and moody winter landscapes My Animal is a low-key entry in Sundance’s “Midnight” lineup, but a compelling one nonetheless. Starring Bobbi Salvor Menuez and Amandla Stenberg, the film follows Heather (Menuez), a tomboyish hockey goaltender who is in love with figure skater Jonny (Stenberg) and a dangerous secret – she is a werewolf. Navigating her blossoming emotions and a tight-knit community unwilling to embrace queerness, Heather struggles to keep Jonny safe from his dark side as the blood moon slowly approaches.
Although the script can often feel sparse and the direction leaves something to be desired, My Animal nonetheless, it continues as a sensual, queer drama that draws interesting inspiration from erotic thrillers and classic horror, and capital-G capital-R gothic romance. Based around a comprehensive performance from Menuez, My Animal‘s thematic and aesthetic strengths outweigh the aimless direction. (Lauren Coates)