sundance oh-nine | three for friday

By eug | eugonline January 17, 2009 at 6:03AM

sundance oh-nine | three for friday
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Three U.S. dramatic competition entries and a dinner party, not a bad first full day of the Sundance Film Festival.

Lee Daniels' “Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire," is a bold festival entry that drew a standing ovation at the Racquet Club last night. On the surface, the story of a morbidly obese, sexually abused young Harlem woman flanked on screen by the likes of comedian Mo'Nique as a whacked out mom, rocker Lenny Kravitz as a male nurse and diva Mariah Carey as a social worker sounds like a recipe for disaster. It isn't. Not by a long shot. Granted, I'm a sucker for filmmakers who take risks and push boundaries, but in this case it works 98% of the time. After the screening I asked Daniels, "What have you done?!" He's woven saturated dream sequences, outstanding performances, distinctive music, and striking visuals into a compelling new American drama. More on the film in today's Sundance Live dispatch at indieWIRE.com.

Equally engaging is Lynn Shelton's "Push," which I described as a "high concept indie" in yesterday's indieWIRE dispatch. Often hilarious, the film also has an engaging subtext that challenges PC sexual politics. It may very well be the buzz film of the festival so far; buyers were still buzzing about it last night and insiders are saying that the film just may close a distribution deal today. Eric Kohn gave the film a good review today at iW.

I was less taken with Emily Abt's "Toe to Toe" which, for my taste is a bit too conventional high school race drama about a privileged, slutty white teen girl who throws away the educational opportunities available to her and the striving, rather noble, black teen girl working hard and aiming to get into a good college. Notably, the film subverts some expectations along the way and is anchored by strong peformances. Abt also deserves kudos for engaging an Obama-era dialogue around race. And her enthusiasm yesterday was infectious. "This is my baby," she said at the screening, "I love it I hope you love it too." And later she noted, "the film inspired by my fascination, some might say obssession, with race relations in this country." iW critic Steve Ramos gave it a positive review this morning.

As for that party, I was able to get some time at the cocktail hour for a dinner toasting "Rudu y Cursi," which welcomed the Mexican film mafia: Cuarons, Del Toro, Gael... Peter Knegt has video from the party.

"Push" director Lee Daniels last night, backed by Mariah Carey, Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique.
[photo by eugene hernandez]


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