Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nathan Rabin @ Sundance '09: Day One

Illustration for article titled Nathan Rabin @ Sundance 09: Day One

Just after touching down in Salt Lake City I experienced my first celebrity sighting. It was a doozy. While I loitered around the baggage claim pondering whether or not to shuttle or cab it I spied Spike Lee schlepping around his bags while wearing a blinding white ensemble topped off by a furry white New York Yankees hat. It was a bold sartorial choice only slightly less conspicuous than wearing an outsized hoodie emblazoned with the words I AM SPIKE LEE, THE FAMOUS FILMMAKER AND PROVOCATEUR. PLEASE ASK ME ABOUT MY FILMS AND CONTROVERSIAL POLITICAL OPINIONS.

Sure enough a total choad of an airport employee sauntered up to Mr. Lee and favored us gawkers and rubberneckers with the following bits of banter “Hey, you’re um—”

“Spike Lee.”

“Right. Yeah. Yeah! For some reason the first thing that popped into my head was Lee Spike!”

Several pained cell-phone photographs documenting the historic meeting of the filmmaker and the aforementioned douchetard ensued. I felt like apologizing to Lee on behalf of white people everywhere but the only conversation-starter I could think of was, “So, that Miracle At St. Anna sure bit the big one, didn’t it?”

Ah, but Sundance isn’t about celebrity sightings, famous people wearing ridiculous amounts of fur and jackasses prostrating themselves at the altar of celebrity. No wait, it actually kind of is. Sundance is about movies but it is also about money and celebrity and gaudy parties and free liquor and gift bags and the curious ecosystem of the fame.

That is why I will be your man on the scene here at Sundance, your hip and happening guide to all the hottest parties, nightspots and celebrity hookups. Ah, who am I kidding? I’ll probably go to one party, drink a beer, get all nervous and leave immediately to attend a press screening for a documentary about debt relief. Then I’ll go into a corner and sob uncontrollably. Cause that’s just how I get down here at Sundance, baby!

To borrow the terminology of It’s Always In Sunny In Philadelphia I am here in Utah as the Wild Card. Noel will provide substantive insight into the films of the day and I will waste everybody’s time with my self-indulgent foolishness.

In preparation for a possible television appearance on Saturday I broke my policy of never paying more than seven dollars for a haircut I went to a hair salon by my hotel. When I told the woman I wanted my head completely shaved she was inexplicably stunned.

“Seriously? You want your head entirely shaved? We don’t get those kinds of requests very often around here.” She acted as if I had gingerly asked to have a conjoined Swastika and Star of David shaved into my dead, not made what I imagine is a staggeringly common request. She also said she wasn’t allowed near the straight razors so she’s probably not going to win hairstylist of the year any time soon, especially since the salon apparently doesn’t trust her with anything more dangerous than safety scissors.

But enough of my inane yammering. On to the movie:

Mary & Max: Adam Elliott’s staggering odd, six-years-in-the-making claymation endeavor Mary And Max is a seething mass of angry contradictions, an animated character study that somehow manages to be both off-puttingly mean and disarmingly sweet. It draws audiences in while simultaneously pushing them away. It invites both contempt and empathy for its misshapen, misbegotten characters. It’s both gorgeous and repellent.

Elliott’s labor of love follows the long-distance pen-pal friendship of two oddballs out of step with the world and uncomfortable in their own skin: a friendless, geeky little Toni Collette-voiced Australian girl with a shit-stain-colored birthmark on her forehead and her unlikely platonic soulmate, a morbidly obese, depressed middle-aged Jewish man with Asperger’s Syndrome from New York voiced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The film’s narrative structure is as unconventional and unlikely as its lead characters. The film takes the form of a series of letters sent between the pen-pals stitched together with voluminous voiceover narration from Barry Humpries. Mary And Max has little structure or forward momentum but it sustains a tone of bemused sadness that’s sometimes devastating. Max is a sleeper that crept up on me: Elliott manages to imbue his lonely grotesques with lyricism, poetry and a sort of cracked, cockeyed beauty.
Grade: I couldn’t possibly give a grade to a film this delicate and strange but if I did it’d probably be a B

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