Sundance 2022 — Part 3

Much as the Sundance Film Festival is adored for showcasing uniquely daring independent films, the roster always has a few slots for the genially frivolous. That big-tent approach has sometimes led to truly baffling entries over the years. Just as often, the movies that meet that particularly brief are best described as cute and fine, palate cleansers between the meatier courses of stern dramas and heavy-duty documentaries. Am I OK?, the feature directorial debut of spouses Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, is about the experience of Lucy (Dakota Johnson), an Angeleno in her early thirties who is somewhat tardy to the realization that she’s attracted to women. Johnson is deft and charming in the lead role, convincing in her gentle, decidedly surmountable awkwardness. A major plot thread about a dispute with her best bud (Sonoya Mizuno) is less compelling, largely because the friendship isn’t developed especially well in the first place. In the mechanics of moviemaking, such as visual styling, tone, and pacing, Notaro and Allynne do a suitable job without particularly impressing.

Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 book, Meet Me in the Bathroom, is a hipster-delight oral history of the New York City music scene in roughly the first decade of the current millennium. Using archival footage and existing artist reminiscences, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern created the documentary equivalent of Goodman’s loving hodgepodge. What might be engagingly rough and ready of the page, can be formless in a feature film. That’s the flaw Meet Me in the Bathroom falls prey to. The directors slide loosely though the stories of several bands — the Strokes, Interpol, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs among them — alternating between them in a manner that feels arbitrary. Only the trajectory of LCD Soundsystem, perhaps uncoincidentally an act the filmmakers previously trained their cameras on, shows evidence of being thought out as a proper documentary narrative. As someone who spent an awful lot of time in a college radio station’s studios during the span covered by the film, I must admit to feel pangs of happy nostalgia as many of these bygone performances played before me. I also recognize that sensation isn’t necessarily a response to the craft of the film, which is decidedly lacking.

The Janes is a splendid documentary on a group of Chicago women who, in the years before Roe v. Wade, clandestinely provided abortion services to those in need. Directors Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes stick to tried-and-true techniques: old news footage, efficiently articulated historical context, and talking-head interviews. The demonstrate the sturdiness of that approach when the material is rendered with thought, care, and a shrewd sense of which details will be most resonant and precisely who is the best interview subject to take the viewer through each turn in the story. If The Janes isn’t particularly innovative, it is absolutely expertly made. Because the situation it recounts is sadly all too relevant, the directness strikes me as exactly the right choice.

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