The Best and Worst Movies of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Our mini-reviews of 16 Sundance dramas and comedies, including 'Beirut,' 'Private Life,' and 'Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot.'

Boots Riley introduces ‘Sorry to Bother You.’ (Photo Credit: Jason Bailey / Flavorwire)

 

MESSY BUT MEMORABLE

In the breathless hyperbole of first festival reactions, it’s very easy to boil things down to “brilliant!” or “garbage!” But some fall somewhere in between – imperfect, but interesting. Like these:

Sorry to Bother You

The Coup frontman Boots Riley makes his feature directorial debut with this broad social satire, and firmly establishes himself as a singular comic voice – weird, wild, and provocative. He indulges in everything from indie-movie in-jokes to Zucker-Abrams-Zucker style background gags (there’s even an explicit Monty Python shout-out), all infused with a healthy dose of his Marxist sensibility. It runs out of gas a bit in the back third, but even then, his sterling cast carries him through; Lakeith Stanfield’s sprung style and off-kilter readings are an ideal delivery system for the script’s verbal wit, Armie Hammer’s role is brief but (to say the least) striking, and though Tessa Thompson doesn’t get quite enough to do, her individual moments (particularly the glimpse of her performance art) are inspired. It’s kind of mess, I suppose – but then again, so was Putney Swope.

A Stupid and Futile Gesture

Doug Kenney was the co-founder of National Lampoon, who went on to co-write Animal House and Caddyshack before his absurdly early death in a probable suicide. Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain’s portrait of the comedy guru offsets its been-there sad-clown stuff with witty self-awareness, slyly sending up biopic conventions in its dialogue (“That’s Tim Matheson in the orange sweater. He’s about the say the title of this movie”) and its structure – which has Martin Mull as the wise old sage Kenney never became, kibitzing on the rise of younger counterpart Will Forte and commenting on the narrative and its shortcuts. It occasionally falls prey to the hero-worship of the 2015 Lampoon documentary that also premiered here, and can’t figure out how to make more than one of its women more than a nagging girlfriend/wife. But those speed bumps aside, its an engaging picture, and as funny as all movies about funny people should be.