I was personally very excited to cover the Tribeca Film Festival for the first time, since living in New York grants me easy access, and I am just a train ride away. Sadly, in-person ticketing was extremely limited, but Tribeca At Home opened up a whole new can of worms. I would be lying if I said the festival as a whole was streamlined and without flaws, but I was impressed by the sheer breadth of talent, variety, and originality present in many of these movies. Anything not given full coverage is included here, as well as previously reviewed films that played as part of the lineup, and our personal top 10 favorite films from the festival.
ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME
In a film that is definitely not horror, and also barely funny enough to be a comedy, I kept waiting for something—anything—exciting to happen after the first ten minutes. From the second Pete (Tom Stourton) arrives at the giant mansion, per his friend’s invitation, the intriguing setup takes a nosedive. A guy with a duck they found at the local pub, random nightmares of a girl hanging herself, being chased with an axe, and recurring imagery of a beaten-up car and a guy in a heavy jacket… this was one weird movie. Something more akin to You’re Next or Ready or Not was what I wanted, but that clearly wasn’t on the agenda here. It’s strictly gaslighting and pranks, will little else that warrants discussion. I did enjoy the soundtrack, which included “Sandstorm” by Darude, and got me amped up for no reason. When all is said and done, I’m sure there is an audience for this British black comedy (I guess that’s how you’d classify it?), as this seems like a movie you’ll either love or strongly hate. I’m sorry to say that I found myself in the latter category.
THE BETA TEST
The Beta Test starts with an exciting (and horrifying) sequence where a couple dines together. “Let me leave!” the woman begs, before her man stabs her multiple times in the neck with little care, then tosses her off his balcony. The American Psycho parallels of both the lead character and the film itself are in your face from the first frame. It’s simply never able to replicate the visceral impact of the cold open. It relies on excessive sex scenes, and the occasional brutal burst of violence, to get the job done. A mysterious letter detailing an anonymous, no-strings sexual encounter acts as a bold set-up that ultimately goes nowhere. The Beta Test is too hollow to embrace the over-the-top possibilities.
GIANTS BEING LONELY
A slice-of-life coming-of-age drama, Giants Being Lonely might be slight and poetic, but it leaves a mark with its jarring and unforgettable final frame. It completely shifts gears and sheds a whole new light on everything that came before. The film is centered on a trio of youths: Bobby (Jack Irv), star player of the Giants destined to do big things, though he is perfectly content to pee on the train tracks, jump naked off bridges, and care for his sickly father; Adam (Ben Irving), another member of the team, has an abusive father and is constantly trying to get out from the shadow of Bobby’s brilliance; and Caroline (Lily Gavin), Bobby’s ex and Adam’s current crush who agrees to go to prom with him and is given little development otherwise. It is a thoughtful movie with rich characters, yet it comes up narratively empty. You have to make up your own mind about motivations and answers to questions, because Giants Being Lonely is certainly not interested in answering them.
What started as a Kickstarter project now heads to Tribeca! Glob Lessons is a road trip comedy that follows Alan (Colin Froeber) and Jesse (Nicole Rodenburg) as they perform low-budget traveling theater shows for minimal children audiences. After opening with Jesse throwing her alarm and telling it to shut up, the stage is already set: the humor lies in the honesty in relatable situations. Both Alan and Jesse lack substantial characterizations, but I did truly love Alan’s show-stopping number set to Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be.” The primary audience will be quirky theater kids, and I’m simply not that audience. However, those who are will find a lot to love.
THE GOD COMMITTEE
Tackling a hugely important topic like organ transplant (and what it takes to even get an organ in the first place) is the setup for a film I expected truly great things from. While Julia Stiles shines as Dr. Jordan Taylor, and Janeane Garofalo is exquisite in a rare dramatic role from the comedy actress, I found the timeline to be confusing. It unfolds during 2014, as board members race to vote on who should get a prized life-saving heart, and 2021, with these same characters coming to terms with the choices they made. There’s enough connective tissue between the two timelines, but little effort is made to juxtapose them against each other in meaningful ways. That said, I absolutely loved the concept and messages behind The God Committee, and I think it is certainly a timely drama with its heart in the right place.
GOD’S WAITING ROOM
(Written by Allison Brown) God’s Waiting Room is the epitome of Florida culture: look no further for gator paper weights, middle-aged shirtless men sipping on 7-Eleven Big Gulps, shopping trips to Goodwill, bingo night at a nursing home, golf carts being driven in public streets, and references to Winn-Dixie sandwiches (despite Publix being the prime Floridian choice). We follow a budding couple, Rosie (Nisalda Gonzalez), a musician spiraling down from her “good-girl” image, and Jules (Matthew Leone), a grimy drug dealer type from New York, and a recently released prison inmate, Brandon (Tyler Riggs), as well as the people in their inner circles. Unfortunately, none of the characters are even remotely likable, which makes it is incredibly difficult to engage with the story. The film shines when portraying Rosie’s songwriting chops and musical talent; some songs are genuinely wonderful, particularly the one about Bonnie and Clyde. I would have preferred a film focusing on Rosie’s endeavors to begin a music career over what Director Tyler Riggs had to offer.
Italian Studies, featuring the always-fantastic Vanessa Kirby, is probably the most pointless and meandering movie of the entire festival this year. I had high hopes, as Kirby’s performance in Netflix’s Pieces of a Woman and the casting of Stranger Things breakout Maya Hawke had me relatively excited. I think the problem lies in Italian Studies simply being a pretentious travel-and-meet-people drama. You can only make Kirby stumbling around aimlessly from place to place, all the while spouting questionable dialogue like “what I need is to hang out with some teens,” interesting for so long before overstaying its welcome.
THE JUSTICE OF BUNNY KING
Unstable “Auntie Bunny” will stop at nothing to get her kids back, and win her battle against a corrupt system that’s keeping them out of her grasp. She keeps promising her children that she’s “gonna get a house” for them all “really soon.” The performances elevate The Justice of Bunny King, with The Babadook’s Essie Davis acting at the centerpiece of the emotional core. The final act completely shifts gears into a thrilling takeover movie that trumps anything that came before. It strengthens the characters and makes the stakes higher, and more exciting than anything during the rest of the runtime. I loved when the cops keep begging Bunny to surrender peacefully, while she is so calmly just cutting up a cake. Jojo Rabbit breakout Thomasin McKenzie features in a smaller role that underutilizes her talents. The conclusion can’t hide the simple truth: we’ve seen this brand of small-scale character drama before. Troubled mom longs for the return of her offspring in the hopes that she can fix the unintentional collateral damage they’ve suffered. Predictable, slight, enjoyable, and Essie Davis kills it.
1995’s Kids ranks as one of my all-time favorite indie movies, with a striking authenticity in both characters and dialogue, and a hopelessly bleak outlook on the youth of America at the time. The Kids, a documentary from director Eddie Martin, is less of a behind-the-scenes tell-all than it is an insightful and deeply upsetting examination of success and fame. The reason Kids is so effective is because it was inspired by the skateboarding scene of the early 90’s, and utilized a mix of professional actors and real-life people to craft its story. Many of them came from the projects in NYC, and a city that was “crackheads and dope fiends everywhere.” Larry Clark, who directed Kids, is constantly referred to as someone who was just manipulating them based on where they came from, which is especially tragic considering the deaths of two major cast members. Clark appears to have infiltrated their world to make a movie about it, and then abandoned them afterward—“he saw dollar signs.” Writer Harmony Korine and director Larry Clark did not participate in this documentary (assumingly for obvious reasons, though there’s a sense of skewed perspective from early on), but it’s the omission of Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny, and Rosario Dawson that feels the most glaring. Without the input of the bigger stars, The Kids is missing something in its execution. I’m still glad I watched this to get a different perspective on Kids. Learning the full scale of Justin Pierce’s story (and the tragic end result) is by far the most effective, and the dedication to fallen cast, including Harold Hunter, is deeply moving and upsetting.
KUBRICK BY KUBRICK
Visionary director Stanley Kubrick made just 13 movies in 40 years, so the fact that he is considered one of the best filmmakers of all time is a marvel in and of itself. Kubrick by Kubrick, a far-too-short (a mere 73 mins!), surface-level examination of Kubrick’s works, recaps the director’s storied filmography through his own words via rare interview recordings from Kubrick himself. It is too much of a clip show, with barely anything feeling modern. Interview footage with others involved is strictly archival, including news footage and cast press materials. There is no modernity to this documentary whatsoever, though hearing about Kubrick’s works from the man himself, complete with clever anecdotes, occasionally reveals something surprising or shocking. There is just a massive missed opportunity here—with works like The Shining and A Clockwork Orange, we deserved a comprehensive doc that dives deep into each movie through critical analysis, or even nostalgic recap. Less than 10 minutes spent on Kubrick’s final film, the iconic “sexual obsession thriller” Eyes Wide Shut, is utterly criminal. For such an incredible, influential filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick deserved better than this barebones collection of clips.
LAST FILM SHOW
(Written by Allison Brown) Last Film Show, or Chhello Show in its original language, is a story of finding light, both literally and figuratively, in the bleakest of circumstances. Nine-year old Samay (Bhavin Rabari) has an incredibly tough life in his remote village of Chalala: his father beats him, he is left to his own devices without supervision frequently, and he is a child laborer for his father selling chai tea to train passerbys. For a film that takes place in 2010, it is incredibly challenging and heartbreaking to imagine these conditions still exist in this day and age. For Samay, food cooked by his mother Baa (Richa Meena) and movies are the only joys he can cherish, despite his father, Bapuji’s (Dipen Raval) belief that film is a shameless, dishonorable career. After the family attends their first film in four years at Galaxy House, albeit a religious, acceptable one, Goddess Mahakali, Samay becomes enamored with film. Eventually, he strikes up a symbiotic deal with cinema employee Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali) to exchange his mother’s delicious cooking for access to the Galaxy House projection room to bask in the glory of his hobby. The scenes of Baa cooking are mesmerizing, particularly those where the food is precisely wrapped in tin containers, towels and other accouterment (in stark contrast to Western, plastic Tupperware). Last Film Show is a quirky film that is impossible to watch without smiling. Somehow, somewhere, someone is always running… It is unbelievable how quickly Samay and his young friends learn the trade of film projection, eventually completing a makeshift projector. Foreign film lovers: don’t miss this one!
(Written by Allison Brown) Materna, directed by David Gutnik, is a pleasant anthology film that would have been better off left as shorts. The movie is broken into four disparate sections, strung together by one traumatic interaction with a lunatic on the subway in New York City. These include Jean (Kate Lyn Sheil), a seemingly agoraphobic woman who does some questionable medical feats in her own home; Mona (Jade Eshete), a successful television actress who left behind her Jehovah witness family; Ruth (Lindsay Burdge), a staunch conservative with a troubled son and a liberal brother; and Perizad (Assol Abdullina), a woman returning home to Kyrgyzstan after the death of her uncle. At first, I thought the stories were all tied by portraying unhappy New York women who have troubled relationships with their mothers. This is really only present in three of the segments. The stories are so vastly different; I am not sure the intention in tying all of them into one feature film. Perhaps they wanted to show how individuals with entirely unrelatable backstories can stick together in a moment of crisis. However, there really is not enough time spent with the scene on the subway to show their relationship in any significant way. Despite this, Materna is definitely worth a watch, if only for the compelling segments centered on Jean and Ruth.
In the most obvious allegory for racism I have seen in a very long time, No Running follows Jaylen (Skylan Brooks from Empire) as he works to clear his name when his friend Amira (Clark Backo) disappears. Strange visuals with blue lightning propel an unraveling disappearance mystery, which kept me invested. The rampant racism in every facet of the narrative is a little excessive. Trevor (Riverdale’s Hart Denton) tells Jaylen in one scene “this is exactly why people don’t trust you guys.” An ending so blatantly obvious and unsatisfying left me feeling a little cold and provides few answers.
THE OUTSIDE STORY
(Written by Allison Brown) The Outside Story follows Charles, an editor for TCM, on a day of escapades as he tries to get back into Brooklyn apartment. After ordering takeout, which is suddenly priced higher, he is guilted into running back upstairs to get more cash for the tip. In the hurried frenzy, he locks himself out shoeless. The film includes an entertaining cast of wacky characters which include a friend who has a “key drawer” that somehow doesn’t include Charles’ keys, a random woman who passes by multiple times to comment solely “sucks” on Charles’ misery, a female cop named Z. Slater who accuses Charles of breaking into his own apartment and tickets his ex-girlfriend’s car, an elderly woman offering up her late husband’s shoes, aggressive kids throwing water balloons, and his wildly cursing landlord driving his mother-in-law to the doctor. One of the funniest images is a syphilis poster plastered on someone’s apartment wall. In between the comedic turns of Charles’ exceedingly bad day, the film offers flashbacks to his relationship with his recently ex-girlfriend to unfold what went wrong. The film is a load of fun, incredibly relatable, and definitely worth the watch.
PERFUME DE GARDENIAS
(Written by Allison Brown) Perfume de Gardenias is a sweet, yet comedic, film that took me by surprise. Isabel is a lively character, somehow more so than some of her younger friends; many of her mannerisms reminded me of my Jewish grandmother. Appointed by the Gods Flock, a group of elderly church women who constantly gossip, Isabel thrives in her role as a funeral decorator. Visuals are grandiose and beautiful; a few of my favorites centered around caskets shaped as a high heel shoe, fishing boat, and a television. The funeral scene with models dressing up in doll costumes and porcelain dolls decorating the walls was definitely a standout. A shocking twist towards the end will urge viewers to personally reflect on a political hot topic.
Similar to its title, Tribeca drama Shapeless feels completely without story or structure. It’s a series of meandering events, somber singing and performances, and portrayal of an eating disorder without having anything substantial to say about it. Ivy (lead actress and writer Kelly Murtagh, who channeled her own history with an eating disorder into her passion for Shapeless) is a New Orleans singer who becomes an addict for binge eating, and her personal demons personify quite literally as growths on her body. The skin on her leg folds itself open at the slightest touch. The body horror of the concept is barely brushed upon. Half the movie consists of melodic tunes, and Ivy zoning off, staring out into space. Sporadic visuals of Ivy drowning beneath silk sheets, and a creepy collection of fingers that metastasize on her back, are the only interesting imagery Shapeless has to offer.
(Written by Allison Brown) Going into the Tribeca selection, She Paradise, I expected a light movie along the lines of You Got Served, with battling dance crews in the streets. Director Maya Cozier offers a much more layered film than I anticipated; it shines a light on the gritty nature of the entertainment industry, as well the extreme sexualization of underage, female dancers. Onessa Nestor as Sparkle is strong, independent and ambitious, while also showing naivete and innocence in her juvenile age of seventeen. I found it insane that one second the dance troupe girls, Diamond (Kimberly Crichton), Shan (Denisia Latchman), and Mica (Chelsey Rampersad), are telling Sparkle that she dresses like a 12-year-old (she’s not much older), and the next asking her, “You know how to fuck?” and telling her to “suck [Mica’s] lollipop!” In the lens of the “Me Too” movement, it is clear the events transpiring, which include simulated rape amongst other things, are true to reality, though the older dance troupe girls definitely perpetuate the toxicity. Diamond especially disgusted me in her treatment of Sparkle in even the worse of circumstances. She Paradise is worth a watch, if only to listen to Mica sharing her theory that the lost city of Atlantis is a community of Africans originated from “pregnant mothers [getting] thrown off [the boat] in the slave trade.”
(Written by Allison Brown) Souad is a hard pill to swallow, portraying the toxic nature of the duality in how one presents themselves on social media versus real life. The film is a window into the day-to-day life of Souad (Bassant Ahmed) and her sister, Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), as they navigate identity, balancing modern teenage struggles and the confines of restrictive, religious Egyptian culture. Despite tedious younger sibling bickering, it is clear Rabab looks up to Souad; their relationship is sweet, and Rabab plays naïve well. Her two friends, Wessam (Hagar Mahmoud) and Amira (Sarah Shedid) seem to be physical manifestations of the two halves to her identity. One asks her to pray and Souad retorts, “I can’t I’m on my period;” the other extreme mentions that “lemon brightens the black pussy” as a joke and passes around underwear she plans to include in her dowry. Everyone outside her inner circle that Souad meets mentions prayer as a solution to all of her problems, almost to a comedic level. There is also a stereotypical “fuckboy” present in Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem), Souad’s on and off again boyfriend who she’s never met yet constantly cyberstalks. Souad is definitely on the slower side, save from a dramatic shock at the halfway point. It is still worth the watch, and shows that Middle Eastern technology culture is more relatable than most people would think.
VENUS AS A BOY
This is the prime example of a movie that’s all style with very little substance, and that makes it inherently disappointing. It fits the cookie cutter description of ‘niche indie festival flick.’ The one thing that Venus as a Boy has going for it is that it is filmed with an eye for beautiful, sweeping visuals, and is filled with fun side characters that provide glimmers of a better movie. The “love story,” if you could even call it that, is distant and boring. I think I liked Ruby (Olivia Culpo) more than Hunter (Ty Hodges), though neither character is particularly well-written. There is a smattering of explicit sex with a dominatrix, meditations, shroom consumption, racial discussions, and mystical quotes like “love is not a transaction.”
WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING
Did I seriously just get Rick Rolled by a movie? We Need to Do Something, a bizarre but timely horror/thriller with an injection of dark comedy, hails from writer Max Booth III (based on his own 2020 novella, which I scooped up after finishing this crazy movie) and first-time director Sean King O’Grady. Going from strictly the first still released, one that utilizes the dark lighting of an 80’s V.C. Andrews book cover, this was in my most anticipated films heading into the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. I’m happy to report it didn’t disappoint, but We Need to Do Something is significantly more bizarre and wildly outrageous than my wildest dreams. IFC Midnight picked up the film for distribution ahead of its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
FULLY REALIZED HUMANS
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
HOW IT ENDS
What would you do with your last day on earth? It’s an intriguing question in which How It Ends occasionally finds clever and interesting answers. This is a different approach to apocalypse cinema than what I’ve seen before. It has very charming elements and presents concepts worthy of further exploration, but it never takes off in an explosive way. Seeing Logan Marshall Green on a bridge holding puppies is worth the watch.
I CARRY YOU WITH ME
Full review at the link.
IN THE HEIGHTS
Full review at the link.
MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE
Full review at the link.
MY HEART CAN’T BEAT UNLESS YOU TELL IT TO
Full review at the link.
KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF
Full review at the link.
THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY
For lovers of movies and shows like A Series of Unfortunate Events and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, this new Disney+ mystery/comedy carries the pedigree of Muppets writer James Bobin. Reynie (Mystic Inscho) is one really smart orphan–he just so happens to be “a gifted child looking for special opportunities”, which fits the bill of what The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened is looking for. His wit and puzzle-solving skills will be put to the ultimate test as he searches for his purpose and life direction. What strange and unusual secret mission will Reynie become embroiled in, and is there any way to stop “the emergency?” With Tony Hale, Ryan Hurst, MaameYaa Boafo, and Kristen Schaal filling in the adult roles, you really can’t go wrong. Judging by the premiere episode alone, this was tons of fun to watch, and the entire audience was laughing and gasping in all the right places. I’ll be continuing this one for sure, as all 8 episodes are streaming soon, starting with the first two on June 25th.
Josh’s Ten Favorite Films
Allison’s Ten Favorite Films
One of the things I enjoyed most about this festival is that they had Q&A’s for nearly every film in the lineup–or at least those included on the digital platform. I very much look forward to 2022, when hopefully they can return to a fully normal in-person event. For more information about the festival, and a complete list of this year’s lineup, you can visit the Tribeca Film Festival website.