Sundance Day 3: Passing, The Sparks Brothers, Wild Indian, Ailey & More

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A round-up of our team’s short takes from day three of Sundance 2021.

Strawberry Mansion
A top-notch Dan Deacon score and handmade vibes lift Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney’s dream-tax-audit adventure-romance just above whimsy. Dream helmet = best Sundance prop so far. #savesugarbaby! —Gemma

(Follow Kentucker and Albert on Letterboxd.)

I Was A Simple Man 
The looming death of a family’s patriarch gives way to a ghost story in Christopher Makoto Yogi’s soulful, haunting drama. Could benefit from more Constance Wu, but works if you accept to follow the slow, slow tide. —Ella

Mother Schmuckers
The Guit brothers are here to steal the Dardenne brothers’ crown, crap on it, solicit it, drag it half-dead across Brussels, and feed it to their dog. (Cute dog though, plus a cameo from Mathieu Amalric, Sound of Metal dad!) Vegan alerts for days. —Gemma

On The Count of Three
Balls-to-the-wall performances from Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael in a suicide-pact/buddy comedy with haywire energy that stacks the ending. Could watch Abbott yelling to Papa Roach for hours, though. —Ella

Confident formal elegance by Frida Kempff (her feature debut!). Cecilia Milocco’s arresting commitment boosts a slightly under-baked pocket psycho-drama. Less arcane puzzle to solve, more measured anatomy of PTSD-wracked headspace. —Aaron

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
A straightforward documentary, but that doesn’t impede any of the the outrageous, tearful joy. Inimitable guests, cutie pie kids—and who doesn’t need Muppet bloopers in their life? —Selome

Scratchy, unrestored archival footage and a less-than-obvious editing approach let Jamila Wignot’s dance history documentary relish in everything that made the late Alvin Ailey a pioneer, while respecting his intense inclination to privacy. —Selome

Wild Indian
A troubled Ojibwe boy grows up to be a self-loathing killer in Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr’s bleak study of one crime that infects a lifetime. Powerful reflections on survivors’ guilt, conveyed by a stony Michael Greyeyes. —Ella

A real-time, one-location cathartic drama that investigates the grief and responsibility of parents affected by a near-unspeakable tragedy. What an incredible acting showcase for Plimpton, Isaacs, Dowd and Birney. —Jack

Tessa Thompson! André Holland! Dev Hynes (+ Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou)! Ruth Negga!! An embarrassment of riches in Rebecca Hall’s elegant debut as director, adapting Nella Larsen’s sensitive study of race and sexuality in 1920s Harlem. —Ella

The Sparks Brothers
Edgar Wright’s lush love letter to his art-pop gods is full to the brim of whimsical riches—both in music and, of course, film history. Shout out to the cheeky captions! —Jack

Faya Dayi
Delicate lighting in Jessica Beshir’s documentary unites overlapping tales about khat, a native Ethiopian stimulant. Haunting, leafy silhouettes incite family tensions, while sunshine honors spiritual khat-chewing traditions. —Selome

Prime Time
A touch Joker-lite (society!) and a bit too scattered despite the limited locations and time span. The film otherwise utilizes the anxiety of Y2K unpredictability for engaging tension and disarming humor. Dat ’90s tech tho. —Jack

A 2020 documentary about dating apps that doesn’t address the new rules (FaceTime but no face time, duh) of love in the time of corona? Starts off strong, but could use a sequel. Still, a fun look at the mechanics of first swipes. —Ella

A Glitch in the Matrix
While reality-challenging conspiracy theories aren’t as much fun these days, Room 237’s Rodney Ascher further enlivens the documentary format with a hypnotic tone, ace archival footage and hilarious interview avatars. —Dominic

Coming Home in the Dark
Violence begets violence in this grim Kiwi thriller with a potent subtext. Director James Ashcroft doesn’t let up and CW staple Daniel Gillies impresses as a walking nightmare whose chilling composure never wavers. —Dominic

Image from Passing.