Sundance Reactions: Getting disproportionately emotional with Scoot McNairy, past lives and geriatric sex

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Annie Lyons scans Letterboxd first reactions at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival to discover iconic queer luchadors, gay dads, sexy Catholicism and badass rock activists.

Sundance is back, baby! Here at Festiville HQ, we’re eagerly scouring your reviews and keeping close tabs on the festival titles and trends making a ripple through the Letterboxd community. And with the first few days of the fest under our belt, one trend already warrants commentary. Maybe it’s the altitude, maybe it’s the feeling of in-person screenings, maybe it’s simply Sundance sparkle and lovely cinema that tugs at the heartstrings, but emotions are high.

What better way to keep warm in the Park City cold—or connected to other film lovers from home—than with some hot tears? Of course, there are other ways to keep warm: wrestling an exótico, or being that same exótico’s lover. As I dive into the Letterboxd reviews of Sundance offerings, I discover a fun fact: the festival’s founder Robert Redford storyboarded the sex scene in Cassandro!

Something Like Fate

One of the final additions to this year’s program, playwright Celine Song’s feature debut Past Lives landed to rave reviews and even convinced Letterboxd member Nick Strauss to bend some rules. “I’ve not been rating Sundance movies so far this year… but I’ll be damned if I don’t express my strong feelings about this movie,” Nick writes in a four and a half star review, one of many ratings that all sit above three stars at time of writing (and that’s unusual for most films). Though, by many accounts, it’s a miracle that any reviews were even written amidst the flood of tears. “I saw this in a theater of 1,000 people and every single one of them was crying,” shares Grady, an observation that Brother Bro backs up: “By the end it seemed to have nearly the whole audience in tears.”

The romance incorporates in-yun, a Korean notion of fate and connection that also felt very much present in Eccles Theater. “Just a film that came along at the exact right time in my life and moved me just so much,” writes Thornton Cash, while Mikayla shares, “I’m truly convinced that I have in-yun with past lives, and I’m happy to be graced with this film in this lifetime.” Celestine affirms: “If in-yun exists, I’m so grateful to have it with this director, with this cast, with the audience of this premiere to experience this film, in this moment, in this lifetime.”

Counterculture Dads

It only takes a quick read of Fairyland’s synopsis to see why Andrew Durham’s film found a home in Utah—as Jason Bailey quips in a four star review, “Well now I can fill in the ‘get disproportionately emotional at a movie about a dad dying’ slot on my Sundance bingo card”—but an early outpouring of love (and more tears) show the reasons why we keep returning to such tales. “Over-lacquered, but in a way I hope will serve it well: the kind of film that will help a generation entering a new chapter of queer history to humanize the ones who didn’t quite get the chance to really live it,” Douglas Greenwood shares.

Scoot McNairy plays that dad in question, a single gay father raising his daughter in 1970s and ’80s San Francisco, and his rare leading turn satiated the appetites of a legion of Scoot-starved Letterboxders. David Gonzalez doesn’t mince words, labeling it a “career best” performance, while Peachfuzzcritic proclaims, “Scoot McNairy is sensational in this. He’s full of sensitivity, care, love, and warmth.” From Cat: “A really lovely performance from Scoot McNairy, who added so much empathy to a role that occasionally made it difficult to find.”

Sexual (Re)awakenings

Another gentle reminder that before our parents were our parents, they were people too, Patricia Ortega’s MAMACRUZ has resonated thanks to the specificity of its leading lady, a devoutly religious grandmother in Seville, Spain. “It’s easy to imagine an American version that flattened this into a thin geriatric sex comedy, but instead it’s a careful and generous character study of a religious grandmother [learning] how to connect to her mother, her adult daughter, and her own desires,” reviews Ivy. Or, as MaiaGolden simply declares, “the sexiest catholicism on screen since Fleabag.”

And in a testament to the festival magic of stumbling upon something unexpected and wonderful (and a review that has me expediting MAMACRUZ up my own watchlist), Laís Campos shares: “I can’t believe I did not have this movie on my list to watch here at Sundance. I was working my shift (which ended at 9:45) and at 9:20 my manager asked me if I would like to usher, and I said yes (because why not), and since everyone was already at their seats, I got to sit down and watch the movie with everyone. And it was incredible.”

Finally, from the “I can’t believe I’m just now discovering…” files

Alexandria Bombach’s documentary on the life of folk-rock activist duo Indigo Girls is landing as strong with those who haven’t heard of them as it is with hardcore fans. “I didn’t know anything about the Indigo Girls before watching this… what an amazing duo!” (Rosalie, five stars). “As someone who had never heard of the Indigo Girls before, I feel so grateful that I got to watch this film IN THE SAME ROOM AS THEM.” (Hannah, four stars). “As a nearly complete newcomer to the Indigo Girls, I had a blast learning about Amy and Emily and what badasses they are!” (Dillon, three and a half stars) “I can’t believe I’m just now discovering the Indigo Girls. They are so much more, like we all are.” (Rebecca Martin, four and a half stars).

Annie Lyons

Pictured: Scoot McNairy and Nessa Dougherty in ‘Fairyland’.

Follow Sundance on Letterboxd.