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Sundance 2014 Movie Reviews: ‘The Skeleton Twins,’ ‘Obvious Child,’ and ‘Happy Christmas’

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What would Sundance be without low budget comedies? The best of the bunch include a duo of Saturday Night Live alumni, a fired SNL comedienne, and a tale of self-destruction from a Sundance alumnus.

SkeletonTwinsThe Skeleton Twins stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as a pair of the world’s most loveable twins. Milo (Hader) has just been hospitalized after an attempted suicide the same day Maggie (Wiig) is stopped from doing the same thing when she gets the call about Milo. Now, Milo comes to live with Maggie for a while as the two begin to deal with their 10-year separation and come to terms with themselves and each other.

Wiig and Hader are phenomenal together — something we already know — and first-time director Craig Johnson makes a hilarious, sweet, and sometimes demented dysfunctional comedy. Luke Wilson plays Wiig’s husband Lance, who just may be the nicest guy on the planet, while Ty Burrell plays Hader’s high school teacher flame Rich, who struggles with his own sexuality. Johnson and co-writer Mark Heyman have crafted a fantastic debut and should be headed for theaters not just because of the star power. The film speaks for itself with Hader turning on audiences’ waterworks when they’re not doubled over during the world’s funniest lip syncing duet.

A117_C002_0418MHObvious Child finds former-SNL member Jenny Slate starring as Donna; a woman in her late 20s whose life is getting the upper hand while she’s stuck in her own arrested development. She spends her nights performing standup comedy where one night her boyfriend becomes disgruntled over her true life anecdotes, confesses he’s sleeping with her friend, and dumps her in the bathroom. Not knowing how to deal with the breakup she gets drunk and sleeps with Max (Jake Lacy) and plays a wicked game of Russian roulette with her vagina and figures out she’s pregnant. Now, Donna must face the best/worst Valentine ’s Day ever as she awaits her planned abortion while dealing with the rollercoaster of starring in her own real-life romantic-comedy.

During Jenny Slate’s short-lived stint on SNL, I never found her particularly funny. She never stood out against the rest of the female performers, but maybe her firing was for the best. Writer/director Gillian Robespierre expands her original short of the same name from 2009 to deliver what will wind up being one of 2014’s funniest movies. Slate has a tendency to get a little too extreme with some of the material, but her performance is kept grounded by the supporting cast. Lacy makes a fantastic rom-com lead and Gaby Hoffman gets to squeeze in her own hilarity as Donna’s best friend. Be warned, Obvious Child is a raunchy affair of the highest order, but has a sweet streak to complement its raw honesty.

HappyChristmasHappy Christmas comes from Sundance regular Joe Swanberg as he brings the self-destructive tale of a young woman named Jenny (Anna Kendrick) who has just broken up with her boyfriend. She moves in with her brother Jeff (Swanberg) to get her life in order, but only manages to make it worse. After blacking out at a party with her friend Carson (Lena Dunham), Jeff’s wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey, who gets to use her real accent!) doesn’t trust her living there with a baby in the house. Eventually, the three begin to realize that they may need each other more than they ever knew.

Swanberg has made his second most-mainstream film yet with Happy Christmas. Coming on the heels of his last film, Drinking Buddies, it’s nice to see Swanberg hasn’t lost his touch with presenting real-life situations on film. Kendrick is amazing as always with Lynskey showing some real vulnerability behind Kelly as she slowly starts coming out of her shell. Mark Webber is also a nice touch as Jenny’s pot-dealer turned possible boyfriend even if it was a little odd to see Stephen Stills groping Scott Pilgrim’s sister. Considering how Swanberg’s films are typically released, we should see this on VOD soon enough, or eventually on Netflix. A great choice either way.

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival and a member of the Utah Film Critics Association.