A genre for all! We're rounding up some films to watch out for out of this year's South by Southwest Film Festival. In this roundup: dramas.
“Adopt a Highway”
Ethan Hawke has mastered working in limited frameworks. From the dialogue-driven “Before” trilogy to the single-room “Tape,” Hawke holds the space required to pull the audience directly in. His mastery of quiet minimalism in last year’s “First Reformed” should have earned him an Oscar.
So, it is safe to say we can watch Hawke do just about anything. Or nothing. And that’s a good thing with “Adopt a Highway,” as first-time filmmaker Logan Marshall-Green’s script gives Hawke very little with which to work. The film made its world premiere at SXSW.
Hakwe plays Russell Millings, a 44-year-old victim of the now defunct “Three Strikes” program who is just (seemingly reluctantly) coming out of a 20-year sentence incited by his arrest for carrying an ounce of marijuana. A fact that is both quaint and deeply wrong, as Millings’ face registers in one scene.
The shaggy-haired and oft-bespectacled Millings, looking like a cross between 1980s Nick Nolte and Kurt Rambis, takes a job at a fast food restaurant and encounters, to mild comedy, the unfamiliarities of the modern world. He discovers a baby in a dumpster one night while taking out the trash and, desperate for connection, takes the baby back to his motel room. A few sequences give the movie a “One Man and a Baby” comedic feel, but once the police have entered into the narrative, you can sense Millings’ tenuous tether to reality begin to unravel.
Blumhouse produced “Adopt a Highway,” and given the company's penchant for horror and the genre bona fides of actor-turned-director Marshall-Green, the audience could be forgiven for expecting a dire and sudden jolt to the narrative. Such upheaval and terror never arrives, for both better and worse. Instead, Marshall-Green holds the camera close on his lead, as Jason Isbell’s score sways between Explosions in the Sky grandeur and country road-story wistfulness, and we are forced to intuit backstory, motivation, fears and hopes in Hawke's eyes. Fortunately, his eyes have it.
— Matthew Odam, American-Statesman staff
With a performance from screenwriter/lead actor Kelly O'Sullivan that could do for her what “Short Term 12” did for Brie Larson, “Saint Frances” picked up a much-deserved Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice award at SXSW. It’s easy to see why. Directed by Alex Thompson, “Frances” stars O’Sullivan as Bridget, a 34-year-old waitress sans partner, children or much going on in her life.
When she hooks up with a fellow server named Jace (Max Lipchitz), a not-a-relationship follows about the same time as she all but stumbles into a nanny gig for Frances (a kind of astonishing Ramona Edith-Williams), the precocious daughter of a lesbian couple in a wealthy Chicago suburb. She only gets the gig after a better candidate bails, and Bridget must step in as one of Frances’ mothers, Maya (played with a quiet sadness by Charin Alvarez), has a baby. When Bridget decides to terminate a pregnancy, it’s the lingering after-effects that are given the most exploration time.
This could be the premise for a nightmarishly broad studio comedy, but O’Sullivan and Thompson deliver something subtler and often extremely funny. There are graceful touches throughout: There’s a tremendous Harry Potter joke; Lipchitz is warm and kind; and somehow Jim True-Frost (Prez from “The Wire”) is a guitarist/poet who turns Bridget’s head. But it’s the way Bridget and Frances’ relationship grows in a kind and natural way as Frances’ feminist upbringing aids her nanny’s worldview that’s the film’s heart.
— Joe Gross, American-Statesman staff
Director Rick Alverson brought one of the most visually stunning movies to this year’s festival. It’s called “The Mountain,” and it stars Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum and Denis Levant. If you’re not an adventurous moviegoer, you'll want to skip this one. But if you appreciate cinematography, the blocking of scenes, set design and the artistic ways of bringing a story to the big screen, then “The Mountain” is a marvel. It is not, however, a movie you will “like.” It’s art. It’s there to be appreciated.
In the 1950s, a young man named Andy (Sheridan) is morose when his father dies. A mysterious older man, Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), comes to Andy’s post-funeral garage sale and says that he knows Andy’s mother, who has been institutionalized in a mental hospital. It turns out that the dear doctor is a traveling lobotomist, and he likes to have photos taken of his patients. Would Andy like to be the doctor’s assistant and take photos of his patients in the 1950s Pacific Northwest? It doesn’t seem like a good idea for a depressed young man, but Andy agrees. What follows is rather nightmarish, in a David Lynch kind of way. But you have to appreciate the gentle artistry that Alverson brings to the screen, even in the midst of brutal lobotomies. Levant, the French star of “Holy Motors,” has a crucial but supporting role.
— Charles Ealy, special to the American-Statesman
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