Sundance Reflections: Other Oddities

“Newlyweeds.” A stoner comedy for people who don’t like stoner comedies.

There are a few films I haven’t talked about yet. The first is “Newlyweeds,” a comedic drama about a young couple, Lyle and Nina, who is coasting through life smoking weed and generally not doing much of anything. But, things start changing when a new drug-dealer enters Nina’s life, and Lyle’s addictive tendencies start tearing his life apart.

The film is easily one of the funniest I saw at Sundance. Lyle and Nina’s drug use has a lot of comedic potential, and first-time director Shaka King makes excellent use of all of it. There’s the time where Nina brings her pot brownies to the child care center where she works and the kids get a hold of them, and the classic-in-the-making scene where Lyle, descending into alcoholism, wakes up on a subway train after a drinking binge wearing a girl’s pink jacket that is too small for him to even remove.

The characters are sweet (if foul-mouthed) and the film is beautifully shot. There is tons of drug use in the movie, but I don’t see it as gratuitous. The film shows the lows as well as the highs of getting high. For people like Lyle, pot is destructive, because it encourages his addictive¬†tendencies. His eventual alcoholism ruins everything around him, even the relationship he was trying so hard to sustain. He is ultimately a kind man, which helps to offset his considerable character flaws. The supporting cast is excellent all-around, but it’s really the writing that shines through. Even during the characters’ more self-destructive descents, we never stop rooting for them and remembering the humanity behind the haze.

The strangest film I saw at Sundance was “Upstream Color,” about as puzzling film as you’re likely to see. Apparently, its some kind of deep meditation on the nature of reality and identity, but I thought it was pure nonsense. It’s one of those “art” films that tries so very hard to be meaningful, all while forgetting that its supposed to be entertaining the audience. The film follows a woman in the aftermath of an infection by some kind of worm that causes her to become brainwashed and lose her identity, which gets transferred to a pig. She falls in love with a man who tries to help her get her life back on track and live again. Sound confusing? Stupid, even? Yep.

The director, Shane Carruth, has received high praise for his unconventional and challenging style, and I can see why. The film is so beautiful to look at that I never felt exactly angry at it. In fact, in technical terms, it’s the best film I saw at Sundance. But, what is it about? Your film can be achingly beautiful, but if you don’t have a good script, you don’t really have much. Don’t get me wrong, I love art-house movies. The deliberately obtuse Terrence Malick is one of my favorite directors. But this is no Terrence Malick film. It’s incomprehensible mud masquerading as meaning. During the Q&A after the film, one audience member called it a “masterpiece.” I thought Sundance-goers were smarter than that.