The Best and Worst of the 2015 SXSW Film Festival

Still image from "Sweaty Betty"

MIXED BAGS

Sweaty Betty

Joseph Frank and Zachary Reed’s inner-city drama is a bit of an oddity. It’s not a documentary, but it’s not scripted either; their camera hangs out with a handful of characters over Father’s Day weekend, following a pair of very loose story threads. It’s a film you want to like, since it’s giving us a peek at a world too seldom seen in even independent cinema. The trouble is that’s it’s so dramatically inert, with poorly improvised scenes that run on and on and (along with the flat, handheld photography) leave Sweaty Betty feeling like a home movie that somehow wound up at a film festival. It’s earnest and authentic; I wish it were just a better movie.

Fresno

This sibling comedy from director Jamie Babbitt (But I’m a Cheerleader) offers more titters than belly laughs, and is something of a mess in terms of both narrative and tone. But as a performer’s showcase, it’s hard to beat. Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne anchor it with a priceless good sister/bad sister dynamic; Lyonne is atypically sunny (and typically delightful) while Greer, as a bitter burnout, puts a sharp little spin on every line, turning each into a little dagger. Aubrey Plaza also shines in a brief but juicy bit as a would-be love interest for Lyonne. Babbitt never quite works up the screwball steam the story seems to need, and the nice-and-neat conclusion is a bit of a disappointment. But it’s hard to complain too loudly about a movie that’s so generous to the talents of so many absurdly talented (and frequently underused) performers.