There are all kinds of movies for all kinds of people at this year’s premier Park City-set independent film fest. Here they are, grouped by recurring themes.
<h1>It’s Hard Being a Teenager</h1>
<b>1. <i>Me and Earl and the Dying Girl</i></b> (U.S. Dramatic Competition)<br />
Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Thomas Mann plays Greg, an antisocial high-schooler who also makes movies as a hobby. He and his one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler), are forced by Greg's mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia. I have prepared myself to be moved by this film, since I teared up while watching the Sundance video of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon merely describing it. Jesse Andrews, whose 2013 debut novel of the same name inspired the movie, also wrote the screenplay.
2. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, and Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Marielle Heller
This movie, which has animated elements as well as live action, was adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel from 2002. Written and directed by Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl takes place in '70s San Francisco and centers on teenaged Minnie (Bel Powley), who has sex with her mother's (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård).
3. Seoul Searching (Premieres)
Starring: Justin Chon, Jessika Van, In-pyo Cha, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, and Byul Kang
Directed by: Benson Lee
Another period movie, Seoul Searching is set in the John Hughesian era of 1986 and follows a group of Korean teens from all over the world who have come to Seoul for a summer program. According to the Sundance program, Benson Lee, who also wrote the screenplay, based the movie on his own experiences.
4. Slow West (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, and Rory McCann
Directed by: John Maclean
Set even further back in time than either of the previous two movies, Slow West sends the audience to the late 19th century where Kodi Smit-McPhee (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) plays Jay, a Scottish 17-year-old who heads to the American West and starts traveling with Silas (Michael Fassbender, an executive producer here). This is John Maclean's first feature (and he wrote it as well), but he and Fassbender have previously collaborated on two shorts.
5. Dope (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, and A$AP Rocky
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa
Dope centers on three nerdy friends who live in a rough neighborhood in Inglewood, California, and are trying to avoid its pitfalls. Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa is an alumnus of Sundance's Director's Lab, where he finished 1999's The Wood, which was also set in Inglewood and is also about a group of friends (played by Omar Epps and Taye Diggs, among others). The festival write-up of Dope describes it, in part, as being “a delightful mash-up of DIY punk, Yo! MTV Raps, YouTube, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.”
6. Grandma (Premieres)
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Sam Elliott
Directed by: Paul Weitz
As a director, Paul Weitz has gone from the broadest comedies there are (American Pie, Little Fockers) to more nuanced movies like About a Boy. In Grandma, which Weitz also wrote, Lily Tomlin plays Elle, a lesbian poet whose granddaughter (Julia Garner) needs her help, causing Elle to revisit her past. Marcia Gay Harden plays Elle's daughter.
7. Songs My Brothers Taught Me (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: John Reddy, Jashaun St. John, Irene Bedard, Taysha Fuller, Travis Lone Hill, and Eléonore Hendricks
Directed by: Chloé Zhao
In writer/director Chloé Zhao's feature film debut, Johnny, a high school senior, wants to leave the reservation where he grew up, but after his father dies, he finds he can't leave his younger sister. —Kate Aurthur
Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Sundance Institute; Aaron Epstein; Sam Emerson; Daniel Katz; Chung Hoon Chung
<i>Z for Zachariah</i>
Courtesy Sundance Institute