PARK CITY, UT: Opening night at Sundance is usually, if we’re being frank (and why not, we’re all friends here) a bit of a snoozer. I mean that literally; people have often flown in from a coast and dragged themselves up a mountain, and they’ve dropped off their stuff at their overpriced condo of choice and rushed to get their tickets or credentials or what have you, and they might not’ve eaten and they’ve got an elevation headache and they’ve trudged through the snow and now they’re leaning back in a seat in a dark theater and that is just the optimal circumstance to find yourself dozing off in a movie.
To their credit, the Sundance people seem to have realized this and leaned into it. Suffice it to say, they don’t tend to put their strongest stuff on opening night. There are exceptions, of course; one year I tried to beat the system and just took the first flight in the next day, so of course that was the year the opening night movie was Whiplash. (Whoops.) And everyone seems pretty excited about this year’s And I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, a revenge thriller starring the great Melanie Lynskey. I didn’t make it to that one; I was seeing the new Al Gore movie and a comedy about horny medieval nuns.
I’ll get to the nuns presently. The new Al Gore movie is An Inconvenient Sequel, the follow-up to the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, and can we all just come out and admit that it got that Oscar for intentions and significance but not for actual, y’know, documentary filmmaking? Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (Audrie & Daisy) have taken over for Truth director Davis Guggenheim, but they deploy the same infomercial aesthetic, and it’s not getting any better with age. It’s not that Sequel isn’t valuable – it’s full of startling footage and important information. It’s just… not much of a movie.
The film is loosely organized around Gore’s climate leadership training sessions, and the current iteration of “The Slideshow” that was the spine of Truth. But it keeps pausing and spinning off into Gore’s meetings with power players, his visits to points of crisis and solution, and even some biographical background, which makes the whole thing feel more than a little disjointed. Gore comes off well, equal parts passion, disappointment, and Dad jokes, though he lands a few good zingers (A reporter notes that, due to its climate-denier governor, “Florida is challenging”; Gore, without missing a beat, replies, “I can confirm that”).
Most of this was shot in 2015, with what looks to be a hastily added November 2016 epilogue (including his visit to Trump Tower). “There have been lots of setbacks,” he notes. “So now we have another one.” But Trump is a specter throughout the film, popping up occasionally to spout denier nonsense on Fox News, like a nightmare you keeping nodding back off into. After all, when you look at those graphs and charts, it’s impossible not to notice the significant escalations starting around 2000; hey, what else Gore-related happened that year? He reflects on programs torpedoed during the W years: “We had a real opportunity… we can’t afford to lose it again.” So yeah, some of An Inconvenient Sequel plays like black comedy this particular week. But hey, they do show footage of Putin at the UN Climate Conference, acknowledging the dangers of climate change, so maybe it’ll become a priority to Trump after all.
The Little Hours is writer/director Jeff Baena’s third consecutive film to play Sundance, and ya gotta give the guy this much: he’ll give you something different every time. His Life After Beth was a cheerfully gory zombie romantic comedy; last year’s Joshy was a mournful, melancholy buddy comedy/drama. He’s fused those two films’ casts for his latest, which takes the obvious next step: it’s a broad medieval comedy. Well, sort of; the sets and costumes are period, but the dialogue is totally contemporary and colloquial. It’s set in an Italian convent, circa 1347, focusing on three young nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Kate Micucci) in various states of unhappiness who find their woes eased in various ways by the appearance of a handsome new handyman (Dave Franco).
It’s juvenile and bawdy and stupid and crude, but reader, I’m sorry, I laughed. Frequently. Some of that comes, I’ll confess, from the easy incongruence of nuns being petty and shouting four-letter words; much of it comes from the impeccable comic timing of the three leads. Plaza plays all her character’s hard edges and throws in a few more, Brie’s lust is giddy and inspiring, and Micucci absolutely goes for broke in the back half.
Alas, that’s also when the movie goes off the rails, descending into a state of chaos that seems to need more of a guiding hand. But Baena’s got real affection for his characters, and works up rich, juicy comic bits for even the day players (Nick Offerman is particularly inspired as a cuckolded oaf). It’s lightweight and gimmicky, but goofy and fun all the same.
On deck for tomorrow (if all goes according to plan): Jessica Williams vehicle The Incredible Jessica James; Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, and Tavi Gevinson in Person to Person; the Obvious Child reunion Landline; and more Aubrey Plaza, this time teaming with Elizabeth Olsen for Ingrid Goes West.