Monday, January 30, 2017

Hanging out with your favorite stars... and not realizing it

For the third year I have had an opportunity to Volunteer as an usher at Sundance. As a film professor at Utah Valley University I oversee a large number of students who volunteer. We try not to hold "official" classes during the festival and encourage our students to take full advantage of the festival being so close.

I will give a brief summary of my festival experience in a later post, but first I will start with a frustrating story that I just want to vent, and it starts with one of last year's most buzzed about films, SING STREET. I didn't get to see SING STREET at Sundance last year, but I saw it the weekend it came out in theaters, and it quickly became my favorite film of the year - with MOONLIGHT just behind by a hair. Each year I write out my list of Duane's Favs - not what I think will or even should win Oscars - just what were my personal favorites. SING STREET wins this year for "Favest" Picture, Original Screenplay and Supporting Actress for Lucy Boynton. I felt Lucy's performance as Raphina the aspiring model was a revelation. She is able to convey so much with great subtly. The scene where she talks about her relationship with her dad is particularly tragic and beautiful. Before the festival started this year I had watched the film again with my son and his girlfriend, and sent it to my siblings for birthday presents (it is dedicated to "Brothers everywhere").

As an usher at the festival I often get to interact with the directors and the talent. I try to stay professional but I honestly really enjoy the thrill of being around them. Screening your film at Sundance is such a big deal, and there's a huge amount of excitement and energy that exudes from them that I find contagious. I normally have the chance to at least shake hands and congratulate the directors. This year I also got to interact with the cast and crew of THE BIG SICK: Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Jadd Apatow, Barry Mendell, Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani.

Unexpectedly the people I ended up interacting the most with was Danny Strong (writer and director of REBEL IN THE RYE - as well as GAME CHANGE, THE BUTLER and the creator of EMPIRE), and his parents and his fiancé. After the screening of his film it was my opportunity to be his "Handler" as we brought him to an area off the theater for a special Q&A with the audience (we had a short turn-around and we had to clear the theater quickly). While Danny very generously entertained the gathering, I worked out some details with his fiancé about their car, where Uber would pick them up, and a few other details. I recognized his fiancé as a character in the film and I congratulated her on her performance. She was definitely traveling incognito as she didn't come up on the stage for the Q&A and was happy to stand back and let the attention all go to Danny. When I got home I imdb'ed the film, and noticed that her name was highlighted... meaning I'd recently looked her up. To my complete shock and frustration it was Lucy Boynton, my "Fav" supporting Actress from Sing Street. I am completely more upset than I should be about not recognizing her, but I sure would have loved to have been able to tell her how much I loved her performance in SING STREET to her face. The fact that not only did I see her and not recognize her, but I talked to her, and hung out with her a bit is even more frustrating. She is the celebrity encounter that was not to be. Oh well. Some other time I guess.

Rebel in the Rye is a very good film and well worth seeing. It seems almost like a film that needs to have been made, though it's pretty standard as far as presentation goes. It certainly brings up some interesting concepts - commitment to art being the most compelling to me. I imagine there will continue to be other biopics about Salinger that will push the form a bit more - a la I'm Not There or another one of my "Favs" this year, Miles Ahead - but that none of those could come to pass without this first excellent film biopic paving the way.

Lucy Boynton as Raphina in SING STREET

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