SF IndieFest Reviews – All the Light in the Sky, Sun Don’t Shine & More
All the Light in the Sky
Joe Swanberg’s All the Light in the Sky is a naturalistic portrait of Marie (Jane Adams), an actress whose career seems to be losing steam. Romantically, she’s gotten to the point where she no longer possesses the energy to actively pursue men, and isn’t quite sure if love is in the cards for her any longer. Marie’s niece, Faye (Sophia Takal), comes to stay at Marie’s Malibu beach house and acts as a projection of her bygone youth, reminding her that life is forever moving forward, never stopping. Marie is a woman at a crossroads, past her prime, directionless and stuck. She’s an emotional castaway, frozen by the immensity of the infinite possibilities laid out in front of her.
As in Swanberg’s previous works, All the Light in the Sky is ultra-realistic and naturalistic in every way. It’s also a snapshot of the technology of our time, as Swanberg utilizes smartphone cameras and Skype to tell his story. Though he throws things like shots from camera phones in there, the implementation is seamless and his mechanisms don’t call attention to themselves.
The dilemmas Marie wrestles with are universal ones, and it’s hard not to identify with the feeling of listlessness she is stricken with. Her friend Rusty, a useful character played by the genuinely funny Larry Fessenden, exudes a “stop and smell the roses” attitude, and being with him just might be the healthiest path for Marie to take. In fact, every character in the film represents a different path for Marie to take in life. The question of which path she chooses to go down is a heavy one. Jane Adams is sensational, creating an endearing and grounded character in Marie. She uses every muscle in her face to convey the feelings she needs to while never once abandoning the realism so essential to Swanberg’s films. The overwhelming sense of serenity makes this film stand out from the pack, as does Adams’ poignant performance.
The International Sign for Choking
Josh (played by writer/director Zach Weintraub) is an American sent on a mission to Buenos Aires to find inspiration for a film. Losing sight of his original objective, he finds himself aimlessly searching the city for something, somebody, to shake him from the loneliness that’s consumed him. The problem is, every time he’s close to making a connection, he (you guessed it) chokes. He meets a fellow American, Anna (Sophia Takal, again), and just as their attraction becomes undeniable, Josh pushes her away. Josh makes makes failed connection after failed connection, and the feeling of isolation grows and grows.
The International Sign for Choking feels personal, though watching Josh’s social inadequacy becomes tiresome as the film progresses, as no stakes are ever established. There are several effective moments where the characters’ relationships silently and subtly crumble before our eyes, but the consequences for the characters are mild. Watching Josh awkwardly shuffle from person to person, racking up missed connections is effective in that we feel sad for him, but ineffective in that it’s not entertaining. While the actors put forth a good effort and are clearly talented, most of the characters are uninteresting and forgettable. Weintraub shows skill in how he captures the essence of scenes by highlighting the small nuances of the actors’ performances. However, these scenes fail to become greater than the sum of their parts.
Sun Don’t Shine
Amy Seimetz (Tiny Furniture, Be Good) delivers a soul-rattling directorial debut about two lovers, Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley), who roll through the muggy wetlands of central Florida toward an unknown destination while trying to attract as little attention as possible (the unsettling plot is worth discovering on your own.) On their nightmarish road trip, their paranoia, frustration, and fatigue slowly drives them crazy as they wrestle with their demons, and one another (literally.) Crystal is a combustible open book, never hesitant to vocalize her emotions on the loudest volume possible. Leo is the opposite, constantly trying to suppress the fears that eat away at his psyche. As they fight and tumble across Florida, their love is tested, and they learn that they are forever tethered to each other, whether they like it or not.
Seimetz, Audley, and Sheil work together to create one of the most mesmerizing on-screen relationships of the year. Watching Crystal and Leo poke and tug at each others’ emotions is simply riveting. Kate Lyn Sheil puts on a spectacle of a performance, being at once psychotic and adorable, somehow. Some of Sheil’s quiet scenes are jaw-dropping. Audley perfectly balances Sheil’s openhearted performance with his wound-up, quietly violent demeanor. The tension the two create together is thick, and when it snaps, it’s explosive. There are some pacing issues, but overall, Seimetz makes a big statement in her debut, and I look forward to seeing what she serves up next.
A coming-of-age film with a larger-than-life attitude, Kevin and Matthew McManus’ feature debut, Funeral Kings, follows a trio of 14-year-old boys who crave nothing more than to leapfrog their teenage years straight into cigarette-smoking, foul-mouthed, gun-toting, sex-filled “adulthood.” Charlie (Alex Maizus) and Andy (Dylan Hartigan) are weekday altar boys (a dream job for them, as it gets them regularly excused from class.) Late one night, their older friend Bobby drops off a large trunk at Andy’s house which he asks Andy to hold and promise never to open. Naturally, Andy, Charlie, and their new friend David (Jordan Puzzo) open the chest, and find a veritable goldmine of forbidden paraphernalia (cigarettes, pornography, a gun) to abuse. Chaos ensues as the friends fight over the coveted gear.
Funeral Kings plays out like a rough-around-the-edges, testosterone overloaded Superbad. The narrative structure is a little scattered, and some of the plot lines receive underwhelming resolutions. The story does have heart and substance, however, and the Mcmanus’ depiction of male adolescence is right on the money. The three leads carry the film well and have genuine chemistry. Maizus in particular shows a lot of range and delivers his lines with bravado beyond his years (all three leads were the age they played.) What’s most impressive about the trio is that they can handle heavy, dramatic scenes with as much confidence as they do comedic ones. The excellent hip-hop soundtrack represents the bad-ass swagger the trio aspires to attain. The film disappointingly goes out with a ‘poof’ instead of a ‘bang!’, but all in all, Funeral Kings is a hugely enjoyable film with a gifted cast and giant cajones.