Tribeca Film Festival: 7 Narrative Films From the Tragic to the Ridiculous

Gunnar Jónsson and Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir in "Virgin Mountain"
Gunnar Jónsson and Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir in “Virgin Mountain”

In addition to the films I have already written about from the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, I saw seven narrative features that include outrageous comedies and horrific tragedies. Below is a rundown.

“Virgin Mountain” won the Festival’s Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, and Gunnar Jónsson won Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film. This movie from Iceland and Denmark is about a large man named Fúsi who, in his mid-40’s, is still a virgin and still living with his mother. He’s quiet, socially awkward, and timid despite his size, and he remains somewhat childlike in that he still likes to play with toys like remote control cars.

When his mother’s boyfriend enrolls him in a line dancing class, he meets a woman and becomes her friend. She falls into a deep depression, and he insists on caring for her. It’s a tremendously sweet, unassuming story that touches on loneliness, bullying, and mental illness, while showing that people can grow and come out of their shells.

“Applesauce” is a crazy, dark comedy starring writer/director Onur Tukel, alongside Max Casella (of “Doogie Howser, M.D.” fame). Tukel is Ron, a man who discloses the worst thing he ever did, which is accidentally cut off two fingers by slamming a door on a guy’s hand. The next thing Ron knows, someone is leaving severed limbs for him to find, including a foot in his laundry. He becomes obsessed with finding out who’s tormenting him, and everyone around him is suspect. The film is entertaining, but I can’t say I liked any of the characters or cared much about them.

“Tenured” was probably my favorite of these seven films. It’s an outrageous comedy that is anything but politically correct. I don’t think I’ve ever seen lead actor (and co-writer of the script) Gil Zabarsky in anything before, but he’s very funny here as a middle school teacher who comes unglued when his wife leaves him.

Even though he is a terrible teacher, he’s tenured, so the principal’s efforts to fire him fail. She punishes him by making him direct the school play, and when his wife says she’ll be in the audience, he writes a script that he hopes will win her back. The problem is that it’s a highly inappropriate script for kids to be acting out. This teacher would be every parent’s worst nightmare in real life, but on screen, he’s a hoot.

Aloft is a tragic story starring Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy. While the acting is excellent throughout, the story is told in a non-linear fashion that made it difficult for me to follow. Jennifer plays Cillian’s mother, who abandoned him after a tragedy pulled them apart. They meet up 20 years later, and the result is confusing, heavy-handed, and grim.

“Backtrack” is, unfortunately, my least favorite film from the Festival. In fact, I don’t think it would have been included if Adrien Brody hadn’t decided to be in it. Why he agreed to do this film is anyone’s guess. It’s a ghost story about a shrink who lost his daughter in an accident, but that’s not even the tragedy that will take precedence as the film continues. There are so many twists and turns that don’t connect to one another, along with the requisite tortured-faced-ghost-child who occasionally flies and screams (purportedly to make you jump), that I actually rolled my eyes a couple of times. I mean, haven’t I seen all of this before? Other than Brody’s performance, I found nothing to like about this film.

Adrien Brody and Chloe Bayliss in "Backtrack"
Adrien Brody and Chloe Bayliss in “Backtrack”

“Meadowland” is another film that I didn’t love, but at the same time, I can appreciate its merits. It stars Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson as parents whose son goes missing. Inexplicably, however, the film jumps from that event to a year later, and we watch each of them trying to cope with the loss. Beyond the loss of the child, though, is the pain of not knowing what happened to him. Wilde’s character gradually becomes unhinged and resorts to more and more erratic behavior, while Wilson’s character also loses sight of himself. Both actors are stellar in their roles, and while it’s a valid study of what happens to people in such horrific circumstances, it’s a hard one to sit through.

“When I Live My Life Over Again” is a fun comedy starring Christopher Walken as a one-time crooner who is desperately trying to make a comeback. Meanwhile, his daughter, played by Amber Heard, is a singer in her own right but is afraid to put herself out there. Mostly, though, it’s a dysfunctional family comedy/drama about a self-centered man who is trying to rekindle the past. It also stars Ann Magnuson, Hamish Linklater, and Oliver Platt.


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