For all of the issues that Sundance affords—a haven for impartial movie, a shocking pure backdrop for trade dealmaking, the chance to see wealthy individuals consuming lukewarm pizza within the foyer of a highschool auditorium—the competition maybe most reliably affords actors the prospect to experiment in relative security. That is the place many a comic has gotten critical, the place teen idols have debuted their new grownup selves. The pigeon-holed come to Park Metropolis to interrupt out.
Generally that effort is large and splashy, like Zac Efron taking part in Ted Bundy a couple of years in the past. In any other case it’s extra low key, like Star Wars hero Daisy Ridley on this yr’s opening-night movie Generally I Suppose About Dying. Franchise movie work could be a poisoned chalice, lavishing fame and riches on its stars, but additionally decreasing their profession prospects to simply extra of the identical. Thus it’s all the time thrilling to see a type of performers attempt to go smaller and weirder, to indicate us what else they’ll do. Ridley admirably succeeds on that entrance, even when director Rachel Lambert and the movie’s three screenwriters—Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Kevin Armento, and Katy Wright-Mead—battle to offer SITAD sufficient of a raison d’etre.
As Fran, an intensely shy workplace drone in a small Pacific Northwest metropolis, Ridley would initially appear to have little to do. Her character barely speaks for the primary half or so of the movie, mutely reacting to her nattering coworkers and providing monosyllabic solutions to direct questions. However within the movie’s dreamy abstraction, we additionally glimpse Fran’s sophisticated psyche. Her thoughts typically carries her into dying: she imagines herself silent and immobile in a verdant wooden, or on a lonely seashore. I don’t assume Fran is suicidal, actually. Fairly, she craves the quiet and stillness of an existence previous the energetic, insistent calls for of present-tense life.
That’s a wierd factor to attempt to relate to individuals—certainly, why would you even attempt?—so Fran is misplaced to isolation. Till, that’s, a brand new coworker arrives and Fran timidly coaxes herself out of her fog. Ridley should talk lots with a little bit, which she does with compelling nuance. I want the filmmakers had given their lead character a bit extra to do and say, or had a extra concrete clarification for her near-catatonia. However Ridley does her mighty finest to breathe some life and understanding into this imprecise sketch of a personality. She’s charming and irritating without delay, you empathize along with her social confusion whereas additionally desirous to shake her shoulders and snap her out of this irritating daze.
It’s a efficiency that’s up to now afield of the loud flash and melodrama of Star Wars that Ridley appears nearly launched anew. She reveals a maturity befitting her age, which maybe serves as refined commercial to future collaborators that Ridley is now not simply the plucky inheritor to Luke Skywalker. It’s, to make use of an previous cliché, a magnetic flip, regardless of the laconicism of the character.
SITAD has its different graces, aesthetic and actorly. The movie is shot with an suave calm that’s enriched by Dabney Morris’s lush rating. The nice character actress Marcia DeBonis is especially affecting in a pair of emotional scenes, considerate counterbalances to Fran’s tight guardedness. The movie could be very Sundance in that manner, some good tailoring that doesn’t fairly make an entire garment. It’s nonetheless a sturdy sufficient showcase for Ridley, who I’d like to see in lots of extra offbeat tasks like this sooner or later.
Nonetheless, her movie was a relatively lo-fi strategy to begin the competition, the primary Sundance gathering held in individual in three years. That grand return to snow-boots-on-the-ground actuality has introduced with it an air of pleasure, audiences seeming pleased (if not all the time gracious to competition volunteers) to be again within the high-altitude chilly. A light-weight snow welcomed us again on Thursday evening, because the competition pointed itself towards a weekend of buzzier fare than the opening evening choices.
The viewers at Generally I Suppose About Dying was raucous and responsive, simply as a filmmaker would need from the hyped-up Sundance lots. The group at a later movie, Sophie Barthes’s The Pod Technology, was extra sedate, however that probably had extra to do with the clunky comedy of that sci-fi movie than with any form of early onset competition fatigue. The post-screening chatter was low for Pod Technology, because it was, to be sincere, for SITAD. That might give one untimely fear about Sundance 2023, a worry that we’re in for a letdown—as a result of what couldn’t be a letdown after three years of ready? However there’s a lot to look ahead to within the days forward; Daisy Ridley’s delicate reinvention hopefully has set the stage for extra discoveries to return.