By Matt Singer | Criticwire January 18, 2013 at 12:24PM
The Sundance Review Report rounds up each day's notable premieres, along with a sampling of their reviews and tweets from Park City, Utah. Here's the reaction to the four opening night films:
"May in the Summer"
Category: U.S. Dramatic
Director: Cherien Dabis
Starring: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf
Synopsis: "May has it all -- a celebrated book, a sophisticated New York life, and a terrific fiancé to match. But when she heads to Amman, Jordan, to arrange her wedding, she lands in a bedlam of family chaos she thought she’d transcended long before. Her headstrong, born-again Christian mother so disapproves of her marrying a Muslim that she threatens toboycott the wedding. Her younger sisters lean on her like children, and her estranged father suddenly comes out of the woodwork. Meanwhile, doubts about her marriage surface, and May’s carefully structured life spins out of control."
"Warmly conceived but largely formulaic."
"Something you don’t need to feel too guilty about skipping."
"Perfectly encapsulated both Sundance’s virtues and its faults."
"A knotty, overwritten, intermittently affecting examination of the silent distances between three apparently devoted sisters."
"But while there’s much to enjoy here -- particularly in the touching performance of Hiam Abbass -- there’s also plenty that is clichéd and forced."
"I enjoyed 'May in the Summer,' a compassionate comedy about a smart, tough-minded woman coping with inconvenient feelings."
"Sundance 2013 gets off to a lovely start with@CherienDabis' 'May in the Summer,' a Palestinian 'Bridesmaids' with a lot of heart and soul."
"'May in the Summer': good, enclosed portrait of strong females with first world problems in Jordan. Both light and heavy lifting. #sundance"
"'May in the Summer' (Dabis '13): The type of pleasant, sitcomish mediocrity I'll have no memory of in a year. Or tomorrow."
"'May in the Summer': An Arab-American culture clash in the Lingua Franca of a CBS primetime drama/sitcom. Expect the unexceptional. #sundance"
"Who is Dayani Cristal?"
Category: World Documentary
Director: Marc Silver
Synopsis: "August 3, 2010, Pima County, Arizona -- Deep in the sun-blistered Sonora desert beneath a cicada tree, border police discover a decomposing male body. Lifting a tattered T-shirt, they expose a tattoo that reads 'Dayani Cristal.' Who is this person? What brought him here? How did he die? And who -- or what -- is Dayani Cristal?"
"A well-intentioned documentary that makes admirable intellectual sense on paper, but becomes an occasional semiotic nightmare in execution."
"Effectively humanizes the thousands of individuals attempting to make a better life for themselves in the US."
"A quiet, low-key doc, but it feels like an important film that asks questions that need to be answered."
"A forceful indictment of the way we do business when it comes to men yearning to breathe free."
"While its story is sad and the waste of life is terrible, there's no real call to action and no clear solution to a complex problem, and the attempt to beatify migrant workers as latter-day pilgrims, sadly, is more than a little naive."
"'Who is Dayani Cristal?' - Whoa what a great doc to start off. Tells a moving story of immigration through the importance of identification."
"'Who is Dayani Cristal' is sad & messagy, but it had heart. A small, personal slice of an issue that's big & ugly & not going away. #Sundance"
"'Who Is Dayani Cristal?': good idea poorly executed, too much Gael Garcia Bernal posing. #sundance"
"'Who Is Dayani Cristal?' a tragic story w/ good politics. not as much a mystery as title implies. hybrid elements w/ gg bernal flat. #sundance
"'Who is Dayani Cristal?': the pro-immigration equivalent of an ASPCA ad. Some stark points undermined by a cloying, misguided agenda #Sundance"
Category: World Dramatic
Director: Sebastián Silva
Starring: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva
Synopsis: "Jamie is a boorish, insensitive American twentysomething traveling in Chile, who somehow manages to create chaos at every turn. He and his friends are planning on taking a road trip north to experience a legendary shamanistic hallucinogen called the San Pedro cactus. In a fit of drunkenness at a wild party, Jamie invites an eccentric woman -- a radical spirit named Crystal Fairy -- to come along. What is meant to be a devil-may-care journey becomes a battle of wills as Jamie finds himself locking horns with his new traveling companion. But on a remote, pristine beach at the edge of the desert, the magic brew is finally imbibed, and the true adventure begins. Preconceived notions and judgments fall away, and the ragtag group breaks through to an authentic moment of truth."
"A sometimes amusing trifle."
"It may meander too much, but the journey the characters are taking is an interesting one."
"There is such an authentic sense of voice to the film, written and directed by Sebastian Silva, that it's hard to really criticize it in any specific way."
"To say the film is an odd mix of styles is an understatement."
"Has little to say beyond Cera's capacity to transform into an amazingly uncomfortable screen presence, something we already knew."
"'Crystal Fairy': weird trippy Chilean mumblecore film w/ fun performance from Michael Cera. Interesting but messy tonal shifts. #sundnce2013"
"'Crystal Fairy' is a sneaky-smart denunciation of the way men think women are 'supposed' to look & act. And it's also about super fun drugs"
"What's Michael Cera doing in a funny/deep Chilean drug-trippy movie? Beats me, but 'Crystal Fairy' gets @Sundance2013 off to a fine start."
"'Crystal Fairy' is lovely Chilean mumblecore with a remarkable turn by Gabby Hoffman. IFC here it comes."
"'Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012' felt like I was playing #Sundance bingo. What a meandering mess with a sprinkle of laughs."
"Twenty Feet From Stardom"
Category: U.S. Documentary
Director: Morgan Neville
Synopsis: "What would a pop song be without the riffs, refrains, and harmonies of its backup vocalists? Although these singers are usually relegated to the margins, and few, if any, become household names, their work has defined countless songs that remain in our hearts and collective consciousness. 'Twenty Feet from Stardom' juxtaposes interviews with industry legends (Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, and others) and the relative unknowns who support them like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Judith Hill as they illuminate the art of melding their own distinct voices with lead vocals and reveal their desires for careers as solo artists."
"Wages a compelling crusade to get background singers some long-overdue recognition."
"A superb doc that not only educates, but completely entertains."
"It's the stories of the back-up singers themselves -- heartbreaking but triumphant -- that will have audiences singing this movie's praises."
"A snappy, joyful, deeply emotional doc."
"Over 10 years, I've seen over 150 films at @SundanceFest. 'Twenty Feet from Stardom' is in the top 5 of all time."
"Crowd can't stop standing Os at 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' doc premiere. Treated to impromptu 'You Are So Beautiful' too."
"Thoroughly enjoyed 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' -a powerful music doc on backup singers as unsung heroes. Equal part fun & sorrowful. #Sundance"
"'Twenty Feet From Stardom' is a totally satisfying celebration of music. Definitely the better of the opening night docs."