Still from 'Hot Summer Nights'
SXSW Film 2017: Final Words
It’s all over and it makes me want to cry. Or it might if I were awake enough for the tears to come. The Paramount has kicked the film festival out to invite in interactive gamers, and the awards are done. I have one more film to tell you about, and a few favourites to highlight before we go our separate ways back into a world outside that beautiful Austin bubble.
First let’s get the final film wrapped up. The Big Sick comes with an unpromising title, and an unpromising premise. The festival booklet mentioned something about a couple navigating cultural differences, which sounded a little rubbish. It isn’t, nor is it just that.
Coming from Judd Apatow’s production line, The Big Sick stars Kumail Nanjiani as himself, and Zoe Kazan as his real-life partner Emily V. Gordon (who co-writes the screenplay with Nanjiani). He’s a stand-up comedian struggling to get by, and she’s a grad student not looking for anything long-term. The problems come from the fact his family want him to marry a Pakistani woman, information he neglects to inform Emily of; and the also slightly pressing concern that comes from Emily ending up in a medically induced coma.
So we have heart-breaking cultural differences and poor health to contend with. Yet it’s also hilarious to the extent we missed a number of lines because we were all laughing so loudly. There’s even space to fit in Holly Hunter as Emily’s mother, putting in another of her suitably intense performances. The only real negative is Nanjiani, who can’t quite hack the dramatic moments, struggling to wipe a smile of his face at times. But we can forgive him because he’s also a key part of the strongest points of the film. And that writing is just so damn sharp.
After that, I had to bring my film watching to an end. Inconveniently timed screenings and the dangerous pull of live music left me tapping out at 15. It was a mixed-bag to be sure – I dished out top marks, bottom marks and a lot in-between – but there was enough good to make it worthwhile. Now without further ado, I’ll give you the best five, in reverse order just to keep things exciting.
5. The Big Sick – I don’t feel I need to say anything more here other than please see above. Oh, and it’s really funny, and kind of romantic, if I didn’t already make that clear enough.
4. Mr. Roosevelt – Big things were expected of Noël Wells’ debut and she delivers. Writing, directing and starring, Wells’ does one of those catching the mood of the times things, opening up her character with scrupulous thoroughness. It’s funny, and it’s sad, and it builds to a wonderful cat joke worth the admission price alone.
3. The Ballad of Lefty Brown – A dishevelled Bill Pullman takes to the screen in Jared Moshe’s excellent western that manages to pay homage to its forebears while carefully paving a separate path. Lefty is a man made to be a sidekick, uncomfortably forced to step up when his long-term partner is gunned down. That he doesn’t seem to know how, and might never work it out, is a large part of the reason the film functions so well. That and Pullman putting in some of the finest work of his career.
2. Becoming Bond – Now I might be going against consensus, but I like George Lazenby as James Bond, and I really like his one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I didn’t expect to love a documentary about Lazenby though. Told in his own words by the man himself, but using actors to reconstruct the tales, Josh Greenbaum’s experimental docu-drama is great fun. Lazenby’s life is full of fantastic yarns, and a few moments of heartbreak. The story of how he became Bond is also very Bond-esque. Do yourself a favor and watch this film.
1. Hot Summer Nights – I must admit I went in seriously unenthusiastic about Elijah Bynum’s debut. Described as a coming-of-age film set in Cape Cod and involving a drugs ring, it sounded grim and predictable. What Bynum actually delivers is a ridiculously cool, genre bending experience mixing teen comedy with summer coming-of-age films and crime noir. It shouldn’t work, especially from someone with no prior experience directing, and yet I loved it. This isn’t the real world: it’s a film world, and a fantastically complete one at that. I only hope it gets the attention it deserves.
There you have it then, SXSW is over and I have only the memory of several excellent films (and This Is Your Death – damn you for not leaving me alone) for company. It’s been a blast. Like Kumail pining after Emily in The Big Sick, I only hope it doesn’t become a one-time thing.
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