I got up early to listen to the festival’s keynote speech by David Edelstein, a critic who now works at New York magazine and whom I admire greatly. His speech summed up the state of film content and distribution during the last 30 years or so, and it didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know. However, his summation that the film festival experience is now the ideal situation for bringing new movies to the market did come as a surprise to me, and it strikes me as pretty much right. An ideal moviegoer would approach the marketplace the way a festivalgoer with an all-access badge would: with a willingness to test out new films without any previous knowledge of what they contained, and a willingness to be disappointed as well as thrilled. Keep an open mind, and you’ll be a better movie-watcher.
The first movie of the day was Krisha, which won the grand jury and audience prizes at South by Southwest this past year. Krisha Fairchild portrays the title character, a heavyset sexagenarian inexplicably missing half her right-hand index finger who comes to her sister’s suburban mansion to spend Thanksgiving with her mom, her siblings, their assorted kids and grandkids, and a gaggle of dogs. Trey Edward Shults adapted this from his own short film (and also plays Krisha’s estranged son), and he uses whirling camerawork, overly loud dialogue, and composer Brian McOmber’s unsettling music to convey to us how oppressive all this company is for Krisha, who’s still the family screw-up in her 60s. You won’t confuse this with any of Hollywood’s cozy dysfunctional family reunions. The movie gets off to a roaring start, culminating with Krisha having a relapse and dropping the turkey in slow motion to Nina Simone’s “Just in Time.” Yet the later going turns soggy, and the thing doesn’t have the zip of Silver Linings Playbook or the ferocity of Rachel Getting Married. Still, Fairchild gives an open wound of a performance, and Shults makes quite an impressive feature debut.
From there we went to Kyle Rideout’s Eadweard, which somehow makes a relentlessly dull biopic from the fascinating story of 19th-century photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge, who had his hair turn prematurely white after a brain-damaging accident, married a much younger woman, and then killed her lover when he found about them. Muybridge’s scientific studies of human and animal locomotion are still useful today, yet this sleepy period flick finds no excitement in either his work or his sensational life.
Carol made me feel like I’d been holding my breath for two hours. My seat at the screening sucked (front row, very end), so I stood up in the aisle shielded from public view to watch Todd Haynes’ movie. Sometimes I do this because I’m bored and want to pace and fidget without disturbing others, but this time I was rooted to the spot. This is what you’d expect from the director of Far From Heaven, a Technicolor feast set in the 1950s with a gay love story, in this case a romance between an aspiring New York photographer (Rooney Mara, who really, really looks like Audrey Hepburn here) and the title character, an upper-class New Jersey housewife and mother (Cate Blanchett). Mara has the showier role, though Blanchett has a magnificent monologue late in the film where she brings an acrimonious divorce proceeding to a halt. There’s a terrific turn by Sarah Paulson as Carol’s wistful ex, too. Still, it wasn’t the acting or the sumptuous visuals that held me rapt. It was the atmosphere of loaded, coded conversations and lovers quivering with unspoken desires, the love that dare not speak its name being so taboo that even characters who proclaim that they’re going to speak plainly wind up doing the opposite. This is the best Patricia Highsmith adaptation ever, and yes, I’m including Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, which improved on its source considerably. For Lone Star Film Festival to have a big-screen version of a Fort Worth author’s work is only appropriate, and the fact that it’s one of the year’s best movies makes it that much sweeter.
From there I had to see Meadowland, which I have no clue about, and I strongly suspect neither does writer-director Reed Morano. A New York City cop and schoolteacher (Luke Wilson and Olivia Wilde) stop off at a gas station on a road trip to have their 5-year-old son vanish from the bathroom. A year later, he’s going to support group meetings and lashing out at friends, while she’s cracking up, mutilating herself and insisting that her son is still alive. Some formidable supporting players like Giovanni Ribisi, John Leguizamo, Juno Temple, and Kevin Corrigan show up for no purpose that I can discern, though Elisabeth Moss gets to play well against type as a schoolchild’s trashy foster mother and sometime prostitute. Wilde works hard here, but this exercise has no direction and nothing to say about bereavement. It was a disappointing end to a stellar day, but I’m going to take David Edelstein’s advice and keep my mind open.