Saturday, July 01, 2017

Independent Film Festival Boston 2017.07: The Trip to Spain and Landline

Not going to lie - it's satisfying to get my write-ups of IFFBoston 2017 finished up just before refilling my plate with another film festival. I have not done that often enough of late.

It's a bit odd to finish up with night #7, though - there would be one more show, but I wrote that up in advance of Closing Night Film Band Aid opening up. That means we end with the second-to-last day, which has changed character over time to become a relatively-big-name showcase, with both The Trip to Spain and Landline already having distribution and released dates lined up. I might have liked a chance to catch more shorts or things which I didn't feel I'd get a chance to see later, but I suspect seeing stuff early is more of a draw for some folks and the distributors want plum positioning to give the festival that draw.

On the other hand, a night of this sort of mainstream, brand-name indie has good odds of being enjoyable and I laughed a lot over these hours. The Trip to Spain is very funny and Landline has its moments. That it's not for me is a little surprising and a little not - I'm not far from the main target audience for things playing on 1990s nostalgia, but generally not much for nostalgia anyway - but it's worth noting that a lot of women just a few years younger than me really seemed to love it going by the reaction outside the theater and on social media the next day. I guess sometimes you've got to be right on the target and not just a bit off.

Anyway, thanks to Nancy and Brian and all of the other volunteers for another great festival; I"m already looking forward to next year and all the things that they'll be doing this year, including October's Fall Focus.

The Trip to Spain

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2017 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

I am tempted to see just how much of my review for 2014's The Trip to Italy I could cut and paste into this one because it still applies, maybe changing a few details. Michael Winterbottom, Rob Brydon, and Steve Coogan have not shaken things up here at all, sticking close to the formula that made the first two "Trip" films (and presumably the television series that the films are edited down from) work, and that's not a problem at all for those that simply want more of them.

So it's been another three years, and when Steve calls Rob to ask if he's down for another week of travel, stopping in restaurants, and then writing the trip up as a serial for the newspaper, Rob looks at his house full of small, unruly children and says, sure, where to? Spain is the answer this time, and they get started by taking the ferry. After praising the boat as a great, authentic way to get away from the bustle of modern life, Coogan soon becomes seasick, which turns out to be a bit of an omen: Aside from how it looks as if his son won't be able to join them on the last few days of the trip this year, there's a shakeup going on with his management in America that seems to be leading him behind (though they seem to be interested in Rob).

It seems likely that, however autobiographical The Trip may have been to start, it's become a sort of alternate universe for these to British comedians, though one that is sometimes oddly static: Coogan still twists himself up with the pressure he feels to advance his career, craving recognition and success in Hollywood, while Brydon seems more well-balanced, content to be a middle-class entertainer rather than a star - or, possibly, too timid to make the leap. It's a solid core that, perhaps, works better in the original sitcom form, where a set-up like that is more readily accepted as a relatively unchanging hook to hang jokes from, rather than a film series where one perhaps expects a bit more advancement. Coogan, Brydon, and Winterbottom recognize that, occasionally pointing out that Brydon has actually appeared in big Hollywood movies a few times since The Trip to Italy, though it's the sort of thing that the filmmakers eventually shrug their shoulders over because, on the other side, there's something to Steve's story of being nominated for an Oscar for Philomena's screenplay and having to fret over some newcomer being brought in to polish his latest that will certainly speak to the audience, even if a lot of the other things going on where their careers are concerned is kind of inside business.

Full review on EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2017 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

It wouldn't be a proper film festival without a movie in which New Yorkers did nothing but fret about their relationships, and as those go, this one isn't so bad. It's got a few funny moments, and there's a nice chemistry between Jenny Slate and Abbie Quinn as well-cast sisters. Folks don't wind up seeming so self-absorbed that one winds up hating them and wanting to get out of the theater at any cost, which is my usual reaction. That's a bit of a win.

It starts out on Labor Day 1995 and follows sisters Ali (Abby Quinn) and Dana (Jenny Slate). Abby is starting her senior year of high school but doesn't give it a whole lot of thought, cutting class and hanging out with good boy and bad girl best friends. while Dana's marriage to dependable but dull Ben (Jay Duplass) doesn't seem to be going anywhere, except maybe backwards when college friend Nate (Finn Wittrock) re-enters the picture. This leads to both sisters winding up at the family's vacation house one night and crossing paths a lot more after that, eventually discovering the love poems their father (John Turturro) is writing to someone who is not their mother (Edie Falco), a mystery they determine to solve.

It's not necessarily a bad situation, but there's kind of nothing to it once you try to give it any sort of close look. Director Gillian Robespierre and her co-writers have more than a few funny scenes to play out, a game cast, and a situation that may be what gets something like 8% of indie comedy-dramas started but which ideally strikes a chord in terms of how can be uncertain about long relationships. Unfortunately, there is too much of that uncertainty as the film starts making its way to its conclusion. Nothing about either relationship that is in danger strongly suggests that it is worth saving or needs destroying. A lot of the last act seems to be Dana trying to reconcile with Ben more by default than any reason that's compelling to the audience and though the 1990s may have been a generation ago, this seems like a cosmopolitan enough group that the audience should expect a little more than inertia at that point.

Full review on EFC.

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