The second night of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival delivered an eclectic cinematic mix. From nuanced coming of age stories to familial struggles, the first day’s screenings showcased brilliant talent on both ends of the lens.
Dir. Max Winkler
Category: US Narrative Competition
Flower is never quite the movie you expect, and that makes it perfect festival-viewing. Seeing it free from the tyranny of trailers or reviews is ideal, given the multitudes of unexpected directions it goes. From the opening moments–when seventeen-year-old Erica (Zoey Deutch) extorts money out of a cop by having two friends film her performing a sex act on him–it’s clear that director Max Winkler is aiming to subvert the typical teenage coming-of-age story. Erica and her friends’ quest to screw over every buffoonish adult male living in their town would be just goofy enough to sustain itself for the length of a movie; for a while, that seems to be where it’s headed. However, when Erica’s mother (Kathryn Hahn) invites her boyfriend (Tim Heidecker) and his son (Joey Morgan) to move in with them, Flower, again, turns into something entirely different from what it previously seemed to be. To say any more about the plot would be criminal – just know that an older man (played by Adam Scott), who Erica has a crush on, factors into everything in an unpredictably twisted way.
Zoey Deutch does the heaviest lifting; Erica isn’t an easy character to play. She’s often extraordinarily empathetic, but in other respects, totally sociopathic. It’s the kind of complex female role that male writers often try, and fail, to write. Deutch keeps the audience rooting for Erica, while also keeping them thoroughly stumped by her behavior. If it weren’t already clear she’s going to be a huge star, her performance solidifies that even further.
One thing’s for sure: among the many films at Tribeca that go exactly where you expect them to, Flower stands out. It’s hard to say how it’ll be received in a general release (writer’s note: even I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy it outside the festival context), but it’s certainly one of the standouts of 2017’s Tribeca.
Abundant Acreage Available
Dir. Angus MacLachlan
Category: US Narrative Competition
Set almost entirely on a single farm, with only five speaking characters, the success of Abundant Acreage Available hinges on its performances; and while the performances are, indeed, very good, the film doesn’t quite cohere into a memorable whole. Amy Ryan plays Tracy, a woman who lives on the family farm with her brother Jesse (Terry Kinney). Both are coping with the recent death of their father, when they notice a trio of mysterious older men camping on the property. The motivations of these men–eventually revealed to be the sons of the farm’s previous owner—remain unclear. Their arrival drives a wedge between Tracy, firmly attached to remaining on her family’s land, and Jesse, a born-again Christian who’s perhaps a bit too kind for his own good.
There’s a lot to admire about Ryan’s and Kinney’s performances. They believably capture the dynamic of siblings who, although they love each other dearly, have absolutely nothing in common. Their interactions with the brothers (Max Gail, Francis Guinan, Steve Coulter) are simultaneously tense, awkward, and, less expectedly, humorous; the film as a whole is so understated that it’s easy to miss how funny it can be. And while it comes to an end that fizzles out a bit—ultimately not leaving much of an impression–Abundant Acreage Available is admirable as a showpiece (though “showy” is not the word for these performances) for its actors.
Super Dark Times
Dir. Kevin Phillips
There’s no reason to be coy about it: Super Dark Times is most likely the breakout movie of 2017’s Tribeca Film Festival. Director Kevin Phillips’ talent is obvious early on – the photography is particularly notable, creating a definite sense of mood from the very first frame. Equally impressive are the performances from teenagers Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan, who play main characters Zach and Josh. Their entire suburban existence is remarkably realistic– they ride their bikes aimlessly around town, they load up on snacks at the convenience store, and they talk about crushes while flipping through the yearbook. But tragically, like almost any teenage boys could, they make a huge mistake that, in the context of the film, manages to be both outlandish and believable all at once. From the moment the mistake is made (better not to say anything more about what happens), there’s an incredibly palpable sense of dread through the rest of the runtime. Viewers might find it hard to ignore the awful feeling developing in the pit of their stomach.
Super Dark Times is going to earn lots of comparisons to stuff like Stranger Things and Stand By Me (and, in fact, both are mentioned in the press notes). The comparisons are accurate on the surface, but Super Dark Times offers something much different, and ultimately, more terrifying. It bears repeating that the little suburban world Phillips introduces us to before anything “super dark” even happens is absolutely essential – it gives all the awfulness that follows an extra oomph. The only real flaw to be found is a very imperfect ending that arguably makes everything that came before slightly less meaningful.
Attending a festival and seeing a bunch of movies one after the other can teach you a lot about directing – you get to see that lots of movies, in a broad sense, have the same look and feel. Super Dark Times makes you sit up in your seat and make a mental note to see everything the director touches from here on out.