This weekend, three Daily writers hit the Independent Film Festival of Boston (IFFBoston). Here are a few of the films that IFFBoston had to offer:
“Winter’s Bone:” Directed by Debra Granik, this back-country detective tale won this year’s Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and it’s incredibly easy to see why. Combining superb acting with gut-wrenching visuals, Granik’s small film about a young girl, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), tugs at the heartstrings from the opening shots of the Dolly family’s intense poverty.
Ree goes on a trek around her Missouri Ozarks town to find out where her bail-hopping father has been hiding — the catch is that she has one week to find him, or she, her invalid mother and her two younger siblings will be thrown off her land because her father used it for his bond.
Granik expertly shows how Ree continues to fight despite the hopelessness of taking care of her entire family at the age of 17 and the resistance she encounters from her relatives while trying to gather information about her father. The muted colors and subtle dialogue lend to the film’s slow pacing, which might make it a hard sell for an American audience, but Ree’s plight is one that stays with viewers even after the last frame.
“Tiny Furniture:” Another award winner — this time the Best Narrative Feature Award at this year’s South by Southwest — this film centers on a young woman who dejectedly returns home from college with no future and no apparent drive.
Writer, director and star Lena Dunham portrays Aura as a desperate, almost disgusting figure, although there are rare times when we feel sorry for her. She has two men using her, her mother and sister have gotten used to her being gone, and her friends are completely insane. This makes “Tiny Furniture” that much more poignant for college students about to graduate whose worst fears are returning to the family household with no job.
Though the film is incredibly low-budget — Dunham cast her real-life mother and sister in their respective relationships to Aura — Dunham has written a witty script with believable relationships. She knows how to play with the emotions of the audience to the perfect pitch, making them laugh hysterically one moment and cringe in embarrassment the next.
“The Freebie:” Like other films in the contemporary “mumblecore” film movement, “The Freebie” follows bored bohemian yuppies in a story characterized by improvisation-tinged dialogue, handheld camerawork and a low budget. Katie Aselton — who also directed the film — and Dax Shepard play a married couple who are somehow so deliriously happy with each other that they fail to realize that they haven’t had sex in months. In order to rejuvenate their relationship, Darren and Annie convince themselves to sleep with different people for one night.
Though they are the heart of the film, it’s hard to fall in love with Darren and Annie. In the montage that opens the film, they’re that couple everyone hates, saying “I love you” incessantly and stealing chaste pecks on the lips while doing dual crossword puzzles. While they nervously talk over their plan, it’s difficult to see how they expect it to produce less tension and more “mind-blowing sex.” And it’s impossible to sympathize with the couple when, following their experiment, their spark and chemistry seem to have vanished. The experiment is such a bad idea — their logic is so faulty — that the emotional fallout comes as anything but a surprise.
Aselton admirably attempts to spice up the narrative by shuffling the chronology. The story goes more or less in order, but it continues to flash back to the night they hatched their plan and flash forward to the morning after the plan goes down. Aselton also plays coy with the outcome of Darren and Annie’s adventures with careful fades to black and delicate applications of ambiguity. Ultimately, the film ends on a note that’s more bitter than sweet, in a flashback in which the couple literally makes its own bed and lies in it.
“Life During Wartime:” Acclaimed indie writer/director Todd Solondz conceived of “Life During Wartime” as a “quasi-sequel or variation” to “Happiness,” his 1998 film. Though the main characters have the same names and similar relationships, they have been entirely recast. The link between the two films is not inextricable, but at times, “Wartime” is obtuse without a double feature.
The film depicts three sisters: Joy (Shirley Henderson), a haunted social worker separated from her troubled husband; Trish (Allison Janney), a mother of three seeking a “normal” relationship in the absence of her husband; and Helen (Ally Sheedy), a successful Hollywood screenwriter who’s not much of a big sister. “Wartime” is overwhelmingly a film of conversations between Solondz’s tableau of unhinged and perverted characters. Most of these scenes are shot tightly with room for silence, but there are a few visual flourishes.
Like most of Solondz’s films, the dialogue is imbued in equal measure with dark humor and opaque symbolism. However, the movie is slowly paced, carried most by the buoyancy of its performances. Janney in particular stands out with her off-kilter sincerity, and Ciarán Hinds, as Janney’s ex-husband, brings an eerie gravity to his role. And Dylan Riley Snyder, Trish’s soon-to-be-Bar Mitzvahed son Timmy, is full of humor with his gravely adult delivery.
“Cyrus:” John (John C. Reilly), a middle-aged divorcé who has yet to recuperate from his broken marriage, is looking for love. With a little push from his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), John leaves the comfort of his cluttered home to attend a party. After unsuccessfully mingling with some singles, John drinks himself into a stupor and stumbles on the gorgeous Molly (Marisa Tomei). After the two provoke everyone at the party to join in a rousing rendition of The Human League’s synthpop hit “Don’t You Want Me” (1981), they leave for John’s house, where Molly spends the night.
Molly is the ideal girl: She’s smart, funny, witty and seemingly interested in John. Yet there is one small problem: Molly’s son, the puerile, unfledged Cyrus (Jonah Hill), is the primary object of her affection. As soon as John enters the picture, Cyrus’ resentment leads him to plot against John and try to take him down.
Written and directed by the up-and-coming comedy duo Jay and Mark Duplass, “Cyrus” integrates both comedy and drama. Ultimately, Reilly and Hill provide a great comedic tandem in this indie flick that’s sure to impress audiences.