The 2022 Sundance Film Festival came to a close last weekend. Although its organizers had planned a hybrid event with in-person screenings, Omicron forced a virtual format. Nonetheless, the event was full of its trademark films and star power.
The festival has always been queer-friendly (festival director Tabitha Jackson is LGBTQ), and several prominent films this year had LGBTQ content. “Am I OK?” was one of the major ones. In it, Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno star as Lucy and Jane, two best friends. Both have huge events going on in their life – Jane has been asked to move to London for a job, and Lucy realizes she may be into women. Ovcr time, their tight bond begins to dissolve, and they have a huge fight. “Am I OK?” is directed by out artists (and spouses) Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne and written by Lauren Pomerantz. Many people complain that a lot of lesbian films are serious or one of the principal characters has to die at the end; “Am I OK?” thankfully refutes that notion. It’s warm and funny with a happy ending. Johnson, who also appeared in the award-winning Sundance film “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” handles her role quite efficiently as a 32-year-old realizing who she is. Sean Hayes has a few scenes as Jane’s boss, and Kiersey Clemons co-stars as an employee at Lucy’s spa who seems very flirtatious. The film is at it sharpest, though, when Johnson and Mizuno are sharing scenes.
There’s also “Sirens,” a vivid documentary by Rita Baghdadi about the Middle East’s first all-female thrash metal band, Slave to Sirens, and “Framing Agnes,” which examines the lives of transgender people after WWII in a manner that combines fiction and non-fiction. It’s directed by Chase Joynt, who last year co-directed the acclaimed “No Ordinary Man,” and Angelica Ross and Jen Richards are in the supporting cast.
“Dos Estaciones,” “Girl Picture,” and “Mars One” were other LGBTQ titles that will – like the others – probably pop up in theaters or streaming services later this year.
My favorite film of this year’s Sundance was Phyllis Nagy’s historical drama “Call Jane,” starring Elizabeth Banks as a married woman who needs to have a legal abortion and isn’t allowed to, prompting her to seek out alternative plans. She joins an underground organization and begins helping other women around her in need. Also featuring a robust performance by Sigourney Weaver, it’s quite empowering, with Banks in peak form as a wife realizing her own strength. Another treat was Emma Thompson as widower Nancy Stokes in Sophie Hyde’s comedic “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.” Her character has never had an orgasm and hires the titular sex worker, played by Daryl McCormack. It’s an intriguing character study of two different types and the chemistry between the leads is real. Thompson is wonderful but the real surprise is that McCormack is her equal. “Leo Grande” has been picked up by Searchlight Pictures and will appear on Hulu later this year.
Another enjoyable offering was Mimi Cave’s “Fresh,” with Daisy Edgar-Jones of “Normal People” as a young woman navigating the dating world. She has a meet-cute with a stranger (played by Sebastian Stan) at a grocery store, and what starts off as sly romantic comedy turns dark quickly. Stan is quite believable in a chance-of-pace role.
One of the big disappointments of the festival was “Sharp Stick,” Lena Dunham’s first project in several years. It’s an awkward film about 26-year-old Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth) who is exploring her sexuality. What starts off quite interestingly – with Sarah Jo living at home with Jennifer Jason Leigh as her mother and Taylour Paige as her influencer adopted sister and babysitting for a couple (Jon Bernthal and Dunham) – quickly changes courses. The last third is puzzling, with Sarah Jo – having lost her virginity – deciding to take sexual experimentation to another level.
The festival also featured a number of Atlanta- and Georgia-specific films. Abi Damaris Corbin’s “892” finds a never-better John Boyega in the true story of veteran Brian Brown-Easley, who robs a local bank in 2017. Krystin Ver Linden’s “Alice” casts Keke Palmer as a slave in the antebellum South who slowly realizes she is living in the ‘70s, while Adamma Ebo’s “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” headlines Regina Hall (also seen in the eerie “Master”) in a mockumentary about the first lady of a prominent Southern Baptist church trying to help her husband and pastor (Sterling K. Brown) after a scandal involving him and several young men.