While last year’s Sundance Film Festival reveled in serious fare, this year there will definitely be a lighter tone that permeates throughout the films in Park City.
Before you think this year’s fest will be a constant laugh-fest, Sundance is staying true to its roots providing the typical mix of hot-button documentaries and, in contrast to what Hollywood delivers, multicultural stories from racially diverse directors and lots of female-focused narratives.
The 31st annual festival, which runs from January 22 to February 1 in Park City, Utah, will showcase 118 feature-length movies in categories that range from foreign documentaries to midnight thrillers. In addition, the festival will unveil 32 American-made narrative films and documentaries — world premieres all — that will compete for grand jury and audience prizes.
While a small number of select titles made the cut, there were 4,105 feature-length films submitted, about 50 more than last year; there were more than 8,000 short films that were submitted.
Last year, Sundance’s narrative competition included the premiere of Whiplash, a dramatic thriller now playing in theaters, and the 2015 festival will continue to throw its weight behind similarly intense films. One is called The Witch, a horror film set in 1630s New England from Parts and Labor, a New York production company with credits like Beginners. In the 1970s-era The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Bel Powley plays a teenager lost in a drug haze; Alexander Skarsgard and Kristen Wiig co-star. I Smile Back, starring Sarah Silverman in her first dramatic lead, tells the story of a suburban mom who goes off the rails with drugs.
Still, the seven comedies that will play in the 16-film American-made narrative category represent a significant increase over the three in that section the last time. The most prominent is The Bronze, directed by Bryan Buckley. The film, which stars Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory), is about an aging, sour gymnast whose small-town status is threatened by a talented newcomer and will play opening night.
Other comedies include The Overnight, from Duplass Brothers Productions, starring Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling and The D Train, a high school reunion tale starring (and produced by) Jack Black.
This year there are some notable films with recognizable stars (Idris Elba, Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, Michael Fassbender, Toni Collette). The festival also announced its Next section, a 10-film group reserved for riskier, lower-budget dramas and comedies. Last year, the art house hit Obvious Child debuted during the festival, in competition this year will include Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a comedic drama about transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, and James White, a drama about a self-destructive New Yorker from the people behind Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Some other documentaries to look out for are stories about the Black Panther Party and Nina Simone. The rest of the noncompetition lineup — where Richard Linklater’s Boyhood made its debut in January — will be announced over the coming week.
Here is a look at the festival competition lineup.
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Advantageous (Director: Jennifer Phang, Screenwriters: Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang) — In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter, Jules, do all they can to hold on to their joy, despite the instability surfacing in their world. Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim.
The Bronze (Director: Bryan Buckley, Screenwriters: Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch) — In 2004, Hope Ann Greggory became an American hero after winning the bronze medal for the women’s gymnastics team. Today, she’s still living in her small hometown, washed up and embittered. Stuck in the past, Hope must reassess her life when a promising young gymnast threatens her local celebrity status. Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Haley Lu Richardson, Cecily Strong.
The D Train (Directors and screenwriters: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel) — With his 20th reunion looming, Dan can’t shake his high school insecurities. In a misguided mission to prove he’s changed, Dan rekindles a friendship with the popular guy from his class and is left scrambling to protect more than just his reputation when a wild night takes an unexpected turn. Cast: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike White, Kyle Bornheimer.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Director and screenwriter: Marielle Heller) — Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comic-book artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend. Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig.
Dope (Director and screenwriter: Rick Famuyiwa) — Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself. Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, ASAP Rocky.
I Smile Back (Director: Adam Salky, Screenwriters: Amy Koppelman, Paige Dylan) — All is not right in suburbia. Laney Brooks, a wife and mother on the edge, has stopped taking her meds, substituting recreational drugs and the wrong men. With the destruction of her family looming, Laney makes a last, desperate attempt at redemption. Cast: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron, Terry Kinney, Chris Sarandon.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Screenwriter: Jesse Andrews) — Greg is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia. Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon.
The Overnight (Director and screenwriter: Patrick Brice) — Alex, Emily, and their son, R.J., are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt, Charlotte and Max. A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Cast: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche.
People, Places, Things (Director and screenwriter: James C. Strouse) — Will Henry is a newly single graphic novelist balancing being a parent to his young twin daughters and teaching a classroom full of college students, all the while trying to navigate the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him. Cast: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Stephanie Allynne, Jessica Williams, Gia Gadsby, Aundrea Gadsby.
Results (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Bujalski) — Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client. Cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker.
Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Director and screenwriter: Chloé Zhao) — This complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation explores the bond between a brother and his younger sister, who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home. Cast: John Reddy, Jashaun St. John, Irene Bedard, Taysha Fuller, Travis Lone Hill, Eléonore Hendricks.
The Stanford Prison Experiment (Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Screenwriter: Tim Talbott) — This film is based on the actual events that took place in 1971 when Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time. Cast: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, Olivia Thirlby.
Stockholm, Pennsylvania (Director and screenwriter: Nikole Beckwith) — A young woman is returned home to her biological parents after living with her abductor for 17 years. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, David Warshofsky.
Unexpected (Director: Kris Swanberg, Screenwriters: Kris Swanberg, Megan Mercier) — When Samantha Abbott begins her final semester teaching science at a Chicago high school, she faces some unexpected news: she’s pregnant. Soon after, Samantha learns that one of her favorite students, Jasmine, has landed in a similar situation. “Unexpected” follows the two women as they embark on an unlikely friendship. Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern.
The Witch (Director and screenwriter: Robert Eggers) — New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family members turn on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood. Cast: Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger.
Z for Zachariah (Director: Craig Zobel, Screenwriter: Nissar Modi) — In a postapocalyptic world, a young woman who believes she is the last human on Earth meets a dying scientist searching for survivors. Their relationship becomes tenuous when another survivor appears. As the two men compete for the woman’s affection, their primal urges begin to reveal their true nature. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, Chris Pine.