SXSW FILM 2017 Recap: Best and Worst of the Fest by Scott Menzel

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SXSW FILM 2017 Recap: Best and Worst of the Fest

SXSW Film 2017 has come and gone. If I am being completely honest, the 2017 festival program was a bit on the weaker side this year after a rather impressive 2016 line-up. Over the course of a week, I felt like I saw a lot of rather average films from big studios and independent filmmakers a like. Yes, I feel like a liked a lot of the films but I would have rather loved more. There, of course, were a few films that stood out from the rest both positively and negatively. This is that list.

Before I jump into my picks of the Best and Worst Films of SXSW 2017, I wanted to make mention of a few films that I didn’t get to see during the festival. These films are ones that I will attempt to see sometime in 2017 and will post my thoughts about them when I do. While I don’t like singling out any film in particular, I was beyond disappointed that I didn’t get to see Infinity Baby as it was one of my most anticipated films of the festival.

Other films that I missed that I will hopefully be able to seek out in the near future include: Muppet Guys Talking, The Relationtrip, Assholes, Life, MFA, Porto, Small Crimes, Sylvio, and T2: Trainspotting.

Best Of SXSW FILM

7. Fits and Starts

Laura Terruso isn’t that well-known but she is definitely a female filmmaker to keep an eye on. Terruso wrote Hello, My Name is Doris with Michael Showalter back in 2015, and has now brought her first feature length film to SXSW. Fits and Starts is about two creative people who also happen to be married. They are both authors but one is published and the other is not. There is something to be said about a film that examines a relationship based around their careers. People very rarely talk about how careers effect marriages and yet this film does a great job doing just that. There is a lot of themes embedded throughout this 80 minute comedy that will connect with a lot of artists who are either married or in a long term relationship. I appreciated the journey that Jennifer and David went on and love how personal the story felt even as a viewer. Fits and Starts isn’t your typical relationship comedy but it is one with plenty of laughs as well as plenty of food for thought.

6. Mr. Roosevelt

I was unfamiliar with Noël Wells prior to Master of None but after seeing her strong performance on the Netflix series, I have added Wells to my radar. Her directorial debut Mr. Roosevelt premiered at SXSW and is a complete and utter delight. The film which Wells wrote, directed, and stars in is a prime example of a personal passion project. The film is loaded with genuine laughs and is incredibly charming. Wells plays Emily, a struggling standup who moved from Austin to Los Angeles but most return to Austin due to an unexpected death. The story will connect with a lot of 20 somethings while the dialogue and heart are what made Mr. Roosevelt truly stand out among the other indies at the fest. This a great film about finding yourself and I hope that a good distributor picks up the film and gives it the release it deserves.

5. A Bad Idea Gone Wrong

Simple but effective is the best way to describe A Bad Idea Gone Wrong. For a film that takes place primarily in a house, I found myself highly engaged and entertained by this film. The reason why A Bad Idea Gone Wrong works as well as it does is because of the strong script and performances. There are only three characters in this film, Leo, Marlon, and Darcy but they all play off each other perfectly and their chemistry is spot-on. The humor and story keep the audience invested and interested for the entire 85 minutes. This is the perfect example of how you can do a lot with a little. A Bad Idea Gone Wrong is an small indie gem that is definitely worth checking out.

4. The Big Sick

Loosely based on the true life story of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick is one of those films that only gets better on repeat viewings. I saw this film at Sundance and while I really enjoyed it at Sundance, I felt I appreciated it even more upon my second viewing at SXSW. The Big Sick is a bold and daring romantic comedy that doesn’t try to sugarcoat the laughs or the drama. You will be laughing one moment and crying the next when you watch this one. The casting of Kumail and Zoe Kazan is spot-on and you instantly fall in love with them as individuals as well as a couple. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are great supporting cast members with each of them delivering well-rounded performances. While the film is pretty great as it is, I would have loved to see a little more of the relationship between Emily and Kumail early on. With that being said, I feel like there are one too many false endings and think that a few more scenes early on could easily replace at least one or two moments that occur within the last 20 minutes. Overall, The Big Sick is a great romantic comedy that is destined to hit big with males and females alike.

3. Colossal

Completely original and entertaining, Colossal is a film that I keep recommending at each and every festival that it plays. The film blurs the lines between a monster movie with a drama about a woman fighting her inner demons. Anne Hathaway has never been better than she is in Colossal and makes this wild idea work wonders. This is the type of creative film that I go out of my way to recommend because it is something that you don’t see everyday. It is a film that takes risks and combines two genres that have nothing to do with each other. The result is one of the most wildly original and unique films that I have seen in quite sometime.

2. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s latest film was all the buzz at SXSW 2017 and it did not disappoint. Stepping away from the comedy realm, Wright’s Baby Driver is an action crime thriller with some of the best car chase sequences captured on-camera in recent memory. The story is engaging as it plays tribute to many of the classic action/heist films of the 1970s. Casting is overall great with Ansel Elgort and Lily James stealing the show from all the supporting cast members. Music plays a pretty significant role in the film and the way that Wright and his editors perfectly mix the music to fit each scene is nothing short of remarkable. While Baby Driver isn’t Wright’s best film to date, I have to appreciate the filmmaker for trying something new and kicking ass at it.

1. Tragedy Girls

Tragedy Girls was a total surprise and a total blast to watch from start to finish. This is a horror-comedy that delivers both the laughs and the gore. There are several death scenes in the film that will be nearly impossible to top for the next several years. The cast all around is near perfection but the two leads Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand own this film. These two best friends are completely demented but somehow charming at the same time. If you are a fan of horror-comedies, you can’t do much better than Tragedy Girls. It is such an entertaining ride while also providing plenty of social commentary on our societies obsession with being internet famous.

Worst of SXSW FILM

5. Person to Person

While I would never say that Person to Person is a bad film, I would say that it is a completely forgettable character piece. Taking place over a single day in New York City, Dustin Guy Defa’s debut is a ensemble drama that looks great but says nothing. We are thrown into the lives of several New Yorkers and each one is extremely different than the next. We learn about a guy trying to track down a vintage record while a newbie journalist is trying to solve a murder suicide. Person to Person feels like it is trying to emulate classic Woody Allen without memorable characters or the right sense of humor. The 84 minute film introducing several storylines that never quite evolve into much of anything. Person to Person is an OK film but to be playing at a festival where there are so many more interesting and unique films being shown, I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek this one out.

4. Like Me

Last year, I saw Little Sister at SXSW and praised it as one of the best indie films to play at the festival. This year, I picked Like Me as one of my most anticipated films of SXSW. Unfortunately for Addison Timlin this wasn’t her finest hour. Timlin is a talented actress but Like Me was like an experiment gone wrong. Robert Mockler’s feature film debut tries to make a huge statement but fails to do so. What starts off as this promising tale of longing for internet fame becomes this amateurish student film. Visually, the film is great to look at but in terms of the story and character development, it is like grasping for air. When watching the film, it felt like Mockler was so worried about the visuals that he completely forgot what story he was trying to tell. The result is something completely forgettable which is a shame because there is plenty of talent both in front of and behind the camera.

3. Lemon

If it wasn’t for the Matzo Ball Soup song, Lemon would easily be the worst film of SXSW and 2017 so far. I realize that a three minute scene shouldn’t elevate a film that much but at least it provoked a positive reaction unlike the other two films on this list. As a film, Lemon isn’t funny or dramatic. It just exists for the sake of existing. It is amazing that such a funny and talented actor like Brett Gelman could write and star in something so painfully uninteresting and monotonous. What makes Lemon so sour is the cast. If this was a film with first time actors, I would be a bit more forgiving but when you have Gillian Jacobs, Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Rhea Perlman, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Brett Gelman, and several other talented actors and you can’t make any of them work, there is a huge problem. You don’t have to worry about avoiding Lemon because I highly doubt it will ever be found outside the festival circuit.

2. Gemini

Queue the 70s porn music, Gemini is a who cares whodunit. For a film that is suppose to be a mystery thriller, nothing about this film held my interest whatsoever. As the writer/director, Aaron Katz gives the viewer nothing to latch onto. We learn nothing about any of the characters and aren’t given any reason to care about them. This is a mystery without any mystery. Yes, things are happen and there are a few different settings but there is nothing about the events that unfold that spark interest. You can’t make a mystery thriller without given your audience a reason to go along for the ride but Katz totally does.

1. Song to Song

While I think I hated sitting through Gemini a bit more than I did Song to Song, I have to admit that seeing so much talented being completely wasted is what made Song to Song, the worst film to play at SXSW. Terrence Malick’s latest film stars an all-star cast but there is next to nothing positive to say about the film. The film drags on and on while the actors stand around looking bored. We are never given a reason to like or care about the characters in the film therefore making this experience one of the most painfully boring Malick’s films to date.