Sundance Day 2: Freaky Tales, Didi, It's What's Inside
My eventful second day at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.
My second day at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival was packed. I saw two very good films and one decent one, but I’m also beginning to feel the extent of my own physical limitations. I’m not sleeping well because I’m so amped up on the energy from the festival (and trying to get my coverage out there), plus standing around in line for several hours per day is taking its toll. But let’s talk about what I saw.
After trying and failing to get into this film yesterday, I finally waited another hour in the P&I line to get one of the last seats for Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Freaky Tales. Freaky Tales tells four somewhat-fantastical interconnected stories from the Bay Area during the 80s. One of the common factors between all the stories is a group of local Nazi skinheads who try to make life difficult for the rest of the cast of characters, (who are largely people of color).
Freaky Tales is a fun romp. While the four stories are of varying length, intensity, and quality, they all feature great performances and interesting hooks. Fleck and Boden bring a lot of style and flair to this depiction of the 80’s and they move between several genres and subject matter effortlessly. I don’t know that I found the film particularly deep or meaningful but I have a lot of affection for any anti-Nazi media these days so this slots firmly into my “recommend” list.
I received an invite for Sean Wang’s film Didi, which had its world premiere at the Ray Theater last night and I was thrilled to attend. A coming-of-age story about a Taiwanese-American millennial, directed by an Oscar-shortlisted Asian male director? Sign me up please.
This was one of the most exciting events I’ve been to at the festival yet. Wang is someone who’s been working with Sundance folks for quite some time to create this movie and you could feel the positive energy in the room as so many people there were instrumental in making this movie a reality. Wang gave a very moving speech about what drove him to make the film and how he wanted to make a coming-of-age story with a character who looks like him.
As for the movie itself: it’s wonderful. The plot is fairly standard coming-of-age fare but there are a couple things that Wang does that really elevate this into something special. First of all, he’s able to capture how challenging it is to be an Asian-American immigrant. Immigrants are frequently torn between multiple worlds with different priorities and it’s really easy to feel like you are hopelessly fucking everything up in permanent and irrevocable ways. Didi puts you in the mindset of a protagonist who’s struggling to figure out how to make friends and be “normal” and it’s not always as easy as it seems, especially as an Asian-American male.
But the other thing that I really appreciate about Didi is how it’s able to capture the unique texture of the modern Asian-American household. There’s a certain way Asian kids (and particularly Taiwanese or Chinese kids) speak to their parents and vice versa and I’ve rarely seen it depicted accurately before. It frequently involves scorching honesty, a lot of intense screaming, and the occasional bouts of tenderness. Somehow, Didi is able to put that onto film in a way that feels both real and entertaining. I should also note that the cast is tremendous — Joan Chen’s performance in this movie made me cry.
Didi is a great debut and Sean Wang is a talent to watch. If you have the chance to check out Didi in the online portion of Sundance next week, I’d strongly recommend it.
My failure to get into Steven Soderbergh’s new movie
After the Didi screening, I rushed over to the Library Center Theater to try to catch Steven Soderbergh’s newest film, Presence. Fortunately, the wait list system was working correctly today and Sundance seemed to have ironed out all the tech kinks. Unfortunately for me, that meant that because I got there 20 minutes before showtime (instead of the required 30 minutes), my waitlist number was invalid and I had to get into the back of the waitlist line.
There’s a sign in the line that ominously states that only about 50 people get in from the wait list for a given screening at this venue. Given that there were about 200 people in front of me, I decided to abandon ship and head to the next event on my list.
After leaving the Library Center line in a daze, I decided to take a bus back up north because I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Didi Premiere Party. But after my Soderbergh fail, I was dismayed encountered yet another massive line and I had to weigh whether or not to stay. I really wanted to meet the director of this film and grab some footage of what a Sundance party looks like for the vlog, but ultimately, I decided to leave and try to get into another screening. However, I did bump into Joan Chen on the sidewalk while I was walking away from the party and I was able to say hi and tell her how awesome she is. Another bucket list item checked off at Sundance 2024.
Sundance involves waiting in a lot of lines, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on that yet.
It’s What’s Inside
I arrived at the Ray Theater at 10:45pm to try to get into the 11:00pm world premiere of It’s What’s Inside. I’m one of the last people in the waitlist line and things are initially not looking good for me. But miraculously, at the last minute, a spot opens up and I get a seat near the front row and all the way to the side. I’m just thrilled to be there!
The plot summary for It’s What’s Inside reads: “A pre-wedding party descends into an existential nightmare when an estranged friend shows up with a mysterious suitcase.” But that’s really only the vaguest taste of what writer/director Greg Jardin has in store. During the Q&A afterwards, Jardin asked the audience to not share plot details from the film, including anything beyond its very basic premise above. I don’t know how long he’ll be able to keep those details under wraps but I’ll honor his wishes in the meantime.
Even given those restrictions, though, I can tell you that I thought It’s What’s Inside was freaking electrifying. It is one of the most original, inventive, and entertaining films I’ve seen in recent memory. If I had to try to relate it to something people might understand, I’d say its plot is a cross between The One I Love and Bodies Bodies Bodies, but directed in the style of Everything Everywhere All At Once. Jardin is using every tool in the cinematic toolbox to try to tell an interesting story but also do so in a way that you’ve never seen before. There are some sequences in this film that are so wild that I could barely even comprehend how they were achieved.
I don’t know how this will play outside of Sundance (based on the Letterboxd reviews, this is going to be a polarizing one) but I was dazzled by this one. It was so good that I started getting annoyed during the movie because it’s probably going to be a long while before I have the chance to watch this one again. That’s how much I loved it.
I can’t guarantee you’ll love It’s What’s Inside but even on a pure technical and stylistic level, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. I’m so glad I got in to see this one!
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And that was my day 2 at Sundance. In the comments, feel free to let me know if there’s anything you think I should check out or anything you’re personally looking forward to. Thanks for reading!