My third dispatch from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival includes capsule reviews of William Oldroyd’s Eileen, Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, Alice Englert’s Bad Behaviour and Erica Tremblay’s Fancy Dance.


dir. William Oldroyd, Premieres, USA, 97 minutes.

“Everyone’s kind of angry here, it’s Massachusetts,” explains Thomasin McKenzie’s sexually frustrated corrections officer to the prison’s new bottle-blonde bombshell shrink, played with Katherine Hepburn’s accent and a naughty twinkle in her eye by an irresistible Anne Hathaway. Adapted from Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel (the author penned the screenplay with her Causeway co-writer Luke Goebel) director William Oldroyd’s mordantly mischievous, noir-inflected take on the 1950s women’s melodrama finds the long-abused, mousy McKenzie stepping out of these cold, New England winter shadows, empowered by her illicit attraction to Hathaway’s glam doctor. It’s like if Carol were even more Patricia Highsmith-ier, with Oldroyd’s direction taking bold leaps across genres, punctuated by surreal sex and suicide fantasies, the tone as deliciously akimbo as the out-of-control drums pounding away in Richard Reed Parry’s score. You can easily imagine a straight version of Eileen that’s pure Oscar-bait period-piece miserabilism, and it’s even easier to imagine it at Sundance. Luckily, there’s nothing straight at all about this picture (in any sense of the word) with its sinister, camp sensibility and this instantly iconic, fiendishly funny Hathaway performance. I’m not sure Oldroyd sticks the landing, but until the final five minutes this is the festival’s wildest ride.


dir. Chloe Domont, U.S. Dramatic Competition, USA, 113 minutes.

Every year at Sundance there’s a big-deal movie that leaves me baffled by the acclaim. Netflix paid $20 million for Chloe Domont’s first feature, which comes out of the gate like one of those slickly photographed, cautionary fuckfests from Adrian Lyne’s 1980s heyday, following a couple of ridiculously attractive Wall Street wolves who can’t keep their hands off each other outside the office. But things fall apart for the couple when she (Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor) gets a promotion they’d both assumed belonged to him (Alden Ehrenreich, conjuring a suitably Michael Douglas-y smarm, even if I was stupidly distracted by the guy whose career was capsized by the role of Han Solo starring here as someone named Luke.) His fragile masculinity threatened by her success, Luke immediately becomes a bad boyfriend in the lamest, most uninteresting ways imaginable. And that’s pretty much all there is to the movie. Critics are hailing Fair Play as the return of the erotic thriller and I feel like I’m being gaslit. First of all, this is not a thriller. It’s an annoyingly repetitive, one-note drama without any intrigue or genre components. Fair Play wants to be Fatal Attraction but it feels more like Promising Young Woman by way of Arbitrage.


dir. Alice Englert, World Cinema Dramatic Competition, New Zealand, 107 minutes.

Alice Englert’s deliberately discombobulating directorial debut is worth seeking out for a fearless comic performance by Jennifer Connelly, an actress I had no idea knew how to be this funny. She stars as a washed-up, former teen star and crummy mother trying to center herself by checking into a trendy weekend wellness retreat. The place is run by a semi-amusing, vapid guru (Ben Whishaw) and the fairly weak satire of self-help culture kicks up several notches when Connelly locks horns with an awesomely resentful model/influencer (Red Scare podcaster Dasha Nekrasova) who’s there for the selfies and social media clout. The two instantly, hilariously despise each other at first sight – seeing one another as worst-case scenarios of themselves – and their scenes together seethe like mini-marathons of passive-aggression. Englert also co-stars as Connelly’s resentful daughter, working as a stunt performer halfway across the world and sabotaging her career with stupid, self-destructive acts. The two storylines are supposed to dovetail but we really only care about Connelly’s, leaving the movie off balance and out of whack. But there’s an interestingly aggressive edge to Englert’s staging, a sense that it could explode at any moment. The film feels unfinished, but also dangerous and alive.


dir. Erica Tremblay, U.S. Dramatic Competition, USA, 90 minutes.

I was at Sundance in 2016 when the unknown Lily Gladstone stole Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women out from under Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart. It was one of those star-is-born moments when the lights come up and 1,500 people at the Eccles are all asking, “Who was that?” Gladstone finally gets to play the lead in Erica Tremblay’s wobbly, well-meaning thriller about the epidemic of missing indigenous women in reservation areas. It’s the kind of film that feels like it would have won the Grand Jury Prize here in 1988. Not a diss, just a description of this earnest, engaged and slightly plodding picture. Gladstone stars as petty criminal scraping by on the Seneca-Cayuga Reservation in Oklahoma. After her stripper sister disappears again, probably on another bender, their distant dad (Shea Whigham) goes after custody of Gladstone’s niece (Isabel Deroy-Olson) and a joyride with auntie inadvertently escalates into a manhunt. The often-amateurish chase stuff and a dead-end mystery are mere pretext for the touching, interpersonal drama and disheartening depictions of tribal living conditions, all anchored by Gladstone’s effortlessly charismatic turn. It’s a throwback message movie blessed with the presence of a natural born movie star.  

Comments are closed.