The Awkward Age

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Judy Blume Forever (2023)

Too often as a culture we wait until someone is dead before we say nice things about them. Judy Blume’s books have meant a great deal to a great many people. Since her first one was published in 1969 they have sold over 82 million copies; to put it another way, that’s about 4,000 books a day, nonstop, for over 50 years. Since most young adult literature has a shelf life of a decade – the time it takes for a generation to grow up – this is an earth-shattering achievement. Certainly at this reviewer’s school, Judy Blumes were passed around in secret, with absolute shock that an adult was talking about sex, masturbation and bullying, in ways which understood what we were feeling too. Ms. Blume’s great talent is for dealing with the dramas of being nine as seriously as the dramas of being 19, or 49, and being able to articulate all the feelings kids experience but can’t articulate themselves. Very few have matched her achievements, and on this scale it’s unlikely to happen again.

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Queer as Folk

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Michael Lavine/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
It's Only Life After All (2023)

Young people seem to think the open-minded acceptance most queer people currently enjoy has always been the case, instead of the biggest cultural shift most gay people over 40 have seen in their lifetimes. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers met in elementary school in Georgia in the ’70s and admired each other all through their schooling. As teenagers, they realized they had similar interests in music and songwriting, and some time later, when they ended up at the same college, they realized that together they were something special. They both had singing and guitar talent; Emily had the knack for writing catchy songs, and Amy had the drive to make things happen. They called themselves Indigo Girls, and the rest is documentary history.

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The End of the Affair

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Guy Ferrandis/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Passages (2023)

Finally, a chaos bisexual. Tomas (the outstanding Franz Rogowski), a German movie director who lives and works in Paris, has just finished his latest film. At the wrap party he complains to a man at the bar that no one wants to dance with him. The random woman next to him overhears and offers. This is Agathe (the incredible Adèle Excharopoulos), a Frenchwoman whose friends worked on the film and who quietly, but with some satisfaction, has just dumped her boyfriend. Tomas grins and meets Agathe on the floor. As they dance, the man with whom Tomas was talking makes his goodbyes; we realize he is Tomas’s husband, the English Martin (a superb Ben Whishaw). Between Agathe and Tomas, one thing shortly leads to another. But when someone is as careless in their personal life as Tomas is, no path is ever straightforward.

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Barely Legal

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Cat Person (2023)

For someone who was a feminist in the ’90s, it is horrifying to wonder if Katie Roiphe might have had a point, but “Cat Person” will do that to you. If you are fortunate enough not to know who that is: in 1993 Ms. Roiphe published “The Morning After,” a book which smugly informed the world that most young women, specifically college students, who thought they’d been raped had actually just had bad sex and, thanks to feminism, didn’t know it. It was reactionary and unkind, primarily a retort to being raised by a prominent second-wave feminist (Anne Roiphe), but also as the attention-seeking little sister to a much better writer (Emily Carter, whose “Glory Goes and Gets Some” is an underappreciated gem), but she didn’t half build a career on it. As a career choice, it was an excellent decision, because the sexual choices of young women are basically the issue. Abortion, gender roles, sexual preferences, childcare, property rights, equal pay for equal work, educational choices, you’re not going out dressed like that: they all boil back to how the bodies of young women are controlled.

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Young Americans

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Shortcomings (2023)

Adrian Tomine bounds up the list of comics creators whose books have been turned into films without disastrous consequences, having inspired two decent ones in succession. "Paris, 13th District" reworked some of his stories through the lens of Jacques Audiard and Céline Sciamma, and moved them a fair distance from the source. But now "Shortcomings," for which Mr. Tomine did the adaptation himself, is a direct translation from one medium to the other. Characters, dialogue, and for the most part droll social commentary all survive the trip from Mr. Tomine's 2004-2007 comics essentially intact.

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Mommie Dearest

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Bad Behaviour (2023)

Showbiz mothers, already indicted many times for many crimes, are back in the dock in "Bad Behaviour" before being let out on parole. Alice Englert, writing and directing her feature debut after a couple of short films, plays the younger side of a mother-daughter relationship bent out of shape by the influence of the past, in this case by the parent's acting fame from years before. That the daughter, Dylan (Ms. Englert), has followed her mother Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) into the same industry is just one dimension of a tense codependency. Ms. Englert would know something about this kind of potential disaster, although her own mother, Jane Campion, cameos here offering moral support, and the vibe is comedy-drama compassion not confessional.

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Spousal Support

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A24

MOVIE REVIEW
You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

Nicole Holofcener is a national treasure who should be protected at all costs. There is hardly anyone in America anymore doing similar work to her, which is to say, making midbudgets about the everyday problems of middle-class people without a lick of special effects; it’s obvious why the Sundance Film Festival loves her. There are filmmakers all over Europe being praised to the skies for making movies about the first-world problems faced by the well-off in Paris or Amsterdam or cosy second homes in the countryside. Why is Ms. Holofcener one of the very few Americans working in this vein? Her movies are not twee and they are certainly aren’t boring; they just might have a little more realism than people care to deal with. It’s the drama of the everyday things, when a disagreement over a rack of tasteful earrings can be as high stakes as an infinity stone.

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Sleeping With the Enemy

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Fair Play (2023)

Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) is supposed to be smart. She is the only woman analyst on the trading floor of her finance organization (the details of which aren’t really important, though it’s rare for a finance company to be so blind to gender optics these days) but she doesn’t know two things. Firstly, men in finance are the most gossipy and self-serving backstabbers on the planet, capable of making million-dollar gambles based on nothing more than a feeling and a few columns on a spreadsheet, and generally prepared to shank their grandmothers if there is a commission in it. Secondly, while she earned her position by being exceptional at her job, her fellow analyst Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) was a nepo hire, only maintained on payroll because somebody owed his brother a favor, which Emily somehow never realized. “Fair Play” only works if the very smart Emily is inexplicably stupid about these two things. The opening sequence, of a sex scene at a wedding reception which breaks new ground in how menstruation is shown on film, is meant to explain why: Luke and Emily have been in a secret relationship for so long and so seriously that Luke proposes right there on the bathroom floor. Emily accepts, which is the beginning of the worst week of her life, as she learns what every professional woman should already know: No office dick is worth the office drama.

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Baby Talk

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Pod Generation (2023)

Into this moment of tension over reproductive rights lands "The Pod Generation," a gentle sci-fi satire of parental unease that isn't toothless but wants to try mediation and understanding rather than scream at anyone in anger. Whether this is actually a failing, or bad timing, or just a missed opportunity might depend on the eye of the beholder along with their feelings about the set of reproductive organs lower down; but it does produce a film skirting around the full nature of its own topic at a safe distance so as not to get singed.

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Everybody Hurts

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Dustin Lane/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Sometimes I Think About Dying (2023)

The obvious joke that "Sometimes I Think About Dying" could have come from the Sundance Random Title Generator is deflated a bit by the fact that the film already heard this gag, back when the original short of the same name played at the festival in 2019. But the shoe does fit. The new expansion is from the same writers - Stefanie Abel Horowitz who also directed the short, Katy Wright-Mead who also starred in it, and Kevin Armento who wrote the original play that inspired both short and feature - and has the same outline: a meek, introverted Fran (here Daisy Ridley) is lonely and depressed in the overcast Oregon gloom. The short was essentially a two-hander, while this feature, directed by Rachel Lambert, has room for all the co-workers Fran endures at her office job, well-meaning overly upbeat cubicle dwellers that might make anyone consider oblivion, if not freelancing.

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