My final day at Sundance was a bit of a miracle of both scheduling and movie choices. I saw all of four movies and most of a fifth, made it through the entire festival without getting shut out of a single press screening -- and saw several films that were as entertaining as any I saw during the festival.
My favorite may have been A.C.O.D (which stands for Adult Children of Divorce), which also had one of the best casts of the festival: younger faces such as Adam Scott, Amy Poehler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Clark Duke, and such veterans as Richard Jenkins, Catherine O'Hara and Jane Lynch. It's a rigorously funny and honest story of adult children and exasperation with their parents -- perhaps the best of its kind since David O. Russell's Flirting With Disaster.
Scott plays Carter, whose parents (O'Hara and Jenkins) engaged in a bitter divorce when he was 9. The owner of a successful restaurant, Carter is sort of anti-marriage. So he's shocked when his little brother (Duke) announces that he's getting married -- and that he wants Carter to get both of his parents to attend the wedding, though the parents haven't spoken in 20 years.
Before long, Carter discovers that the therapist (Lynch) he went to to cope with the divorce wasn't a therapist but a researcher -- and that she wrote a best-selling book in which he had been one of the pseudonymed subjects. So Carter tries to take some control of the situation -- and unleashes a maelstrom of comic complications.
The script, by Zicherman and Ben Karlin, is witty, surprising and full of wonderful bits of tangy characterization. The performances are imaginative and consistently able to provoke unexpected laughs. Of the films I saw, this was one that seemed to have the most breakout potential.
I also was thrilled by Muscle Shoals, a rock'n'soul feast of a documentary about the seminal recording studios in a tiny town in Alabama that produced some of the great soul and rock'n'roll recordings of the 1960s and 70s. The first was Fame Studios, started by Rick Hall (who runs them to this day), where Percy Sledge recorded When a Man Loves a Woman, Wilson Pickett recorded many of his early hits and Aretha Franklin did I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You).
The second was Muscle Shoals Sound, started by the Swampers, the group of white session musicians who had played behind Pickett and Franklin and the rest. It caused a rift with Hall -- but Muscle Shoals Sound became the destination for the Rolling Stones to do some tracks from Exile on Main Street (and, according to Keith Richards, would have been where they recorded the rest of that album if he hadn't been barred from the U.S. because of drug charges).
It's an affectionate, uplifting film, with testimony from everyone from Aretha and Sledge to Bono and Alicia Keys. It offers a slice of American popular history which, along with the stories of Motown and Stax Records, pretty much cover the rise of soul music in America. It's a true treat.
This commentary continues on my website.