A quick look at the first six films making up my 2021 Tribeca Film Festival experience
By Sean Blanford
As more and more of life as we once knew it is gaining a sense of normalcy as we try and scratch our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, so too are major film festivals. The 20th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival is occurring this year. With it comes the pomp and circumstances that come with all major festivals, whether exclusive events, major films premiering at the festival, or the little indie that is looking for a distribution deal. So many amazing films are part of the virtual online experience that you don’t feel like you are missing out on if you cannot attend live in New York City, and here are my thoughts on six of those films.
The First Step
Brandon Kramer, director
Taking a glimpse inside a Washington, DC post-Trump election win that is more partisan than ever is the Brandon Kramer documentary The First Step. Following current CNN political commentator and former Obama White House official Van Jones through turbulent waters to try and pass the First Step Act to try and pass legislation to reform prison sentencing laws was an interesting and sometimes frustrating look at what it is like to try and champion meaningful reform when you are a person labeled as a pariah both on the right and on the left. Much of the film focuses on getting this bill passed, famously bringing the celebrity cache that is reality star Kim Kardashian into the fold. Oddly enough, when the focus wasn’t on Jones and was more on bringing groups of people together to be able to tour Skid Row or try and make real change, the film was at its best. It’s when we are forced to feel for Jones and how sad it is that everyone hates him or us wanting to see him as a regular guy (he takes out his own garbage and sleeps on a Superman comforter and everything!) where the documentary falls flat. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to focus on the big picture rather than a single man that is the driving force, and I would have rather seen the former than what was presented to us.
Grade: 2.5/5 (C+)
See For Me
Randall Okita, Director
Ending my personal first day of coverage was so far my favorite film of the festival so far, the Randall Okita home-invasion thriller See For Me. Starring Skyler Davenport as Sophie, a once Olympic hopeful skier who is now blind and house/cat sit for the, let’s say, well-off. Sophie isn’t afraid to make a little extra on the side, but when a robbery takes place during Sophie’s latest gig in a remote cabin in upstate New York, it is up to her quick wit and the help from a former vet-turned gamer Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy) to act as Sophie’s eyes remotely, it makes for an intense, closed quarters thrill ride.
The film hinges on the performance of actor Skyler Davenport, who is most known for their voice acting work and this is their feature film debut, and for the most part, they are successful. Sophie is such a strong-willed personality that she comes off as somewhat unlikeable initially, but it turns it around as the film progresses into the second and third acts. The film’s direction and score by Joesph Murray and Lodewijk Vos (who also worked on the equally creepy 2016 film The Void) is its biggest strength, elevating the film from a subgenre we have seen before to something so much more than.
Grade: 4/5 (B+)
Roshan Sethi, Director
My Day 2 was a bit full, so I could only get to one film, which was the sweet COVID-era romantic comedy 7 Days. Directed and co-written by Roshan Sethi (in his directorial debut) and starring co-writer Karan Soni (Deadpool) and Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers), we follow Ravi and Rita on an arranged date set up by their parents to potentially setting them up for marriage. When COVID lockdowns begin, and Ravi is forced to stay at Rita’s home for a few days until he can get a way home, Ravi discovers that Rita may not be the straight-laced person she initially appeared to be, turning in the vegetarian, no-drinking good girl to the beer and fried chicken for breakfast lover who isn’t afraid to leave her *ahem* personal effects laying out in the open.
While the film follows so many of the tropes that can either sink or save your romcom, it helps that Soni and Viswanathan have great on-screen chemistry together. These are surprisingly fleshed-out characters for a film that is only 86-minutes with credits, making the sped-up and slightly predictable ending somewhat frustrating. Give the third act another five to ten minutes to breathe a bit, and this would have been a better complete story, but this was still very good for now, thanks to its two stars.
GRADE: 3.5/5 (B)
All My Friends Hate Me
Andrew Gaynord, Director
Comedy is possibly the most subjective genre in film, and black comedies are potentially even more so as a subgenre. They come off as mean-spirited, sometimes dry to the point of snarky, and if you are a person who can’t stand those types of films, All My Friends Hate Me is not the film for you. I, however, love these types of films, and the dryness of the humor combined with the anxiety-inducing scenarios we are put into made for a great hybrid of black comedy and social anxiety drama.
It’s Pete’s birthday weekend! He has plans to reunite with his old college gang at a big rental mansion to celebrate. However, when a stranger enters the mix, it feels to Pete that this person, alongside his own personal paranoia, is driving a wedge between himself and the rest of his group. As the film progresses to a smashing climax, we feel for Pete as it truly comes off as his friends slagging on him a bit too much, but it could be all in his head. A great balance between comedy and drama/horror with a banging score was another film that ranks high on my favorites of the festival so far.
GRADE: 3.75/5 (B+)
Mark, Mary, & Some Other People
Hannah Marks, Writer/Director
Disappointment is a word that I don’t love to throw around when describing a film. Still, Hannah Mark’s Mark, Mary, & Some Other People is equally tremendous as it is frustrating, which, much like the equally likable 7 Days, could have used more time to flush out its out-of-nowhere conclusion.
Mark (Ben Rosenfield) and Mary (Hayley Law) reunited in a convenience store when Mary bought a pregnancy test. Sparks fly, and when the initial result comes back negative, they start a blazing romance that ends in marriage and tattoos of each other’s names on their arms. Then the bug gets in Mary’s ear from a friend about having their marriage become an open marriage, which makes that at first-reluctant, Mark and the more open-minded Mary dip their toes in the polyamorous waters before diving headlong into the deep end of the pool. Rosenfield and Law are so good together, and I wish that Mark, Mary & Some Other People could have stuck the landing.
GRADE: 3.25/5 (B-)
I did watch a sixth film, the Mickey Reece exorcism horror Agnes, but I have so many mixed-up thoughts on the film in my head that I want to reserve a final judgment on it for a couple of days. I look forward to my thoughts on that film and so many more in the next few days.