TRIBECA 22: CRITICS NOTEBOOK
The 2022 Tribeca Film Festival had no shortage of movie stars, red carpets, cocktail parties and good films. Unlike TIFF and Sundance that takeover the whole town, the Tribeca festival can feel a bit scattered in a city as sprawling as New York, where you can walk a block away from the venue in any direction and be in a completely different world. Nonetheless, the constant buzz of activity at the Village East Cinema was a welcome sight.
Coming on the heels of Cannes this year (having undergone a recent calendar shift from April to June), critics seemed exhausted and perhaps not as on top of reviews as usual. Tribeca’s press team is lovely, but apparently, they think critics should watch all the movies at P&I screenings, and don’t provide complimentary public premiere tickets. Instead, they explain, you can request a ticket on the morning of at the box office, which worked for my colleague. Or you can ask a publicist if they have a spare ticket, which worked for me twice. I usually don’t have trouble getting into screenings, but Sundance, for example, offers 10 public tickets upfront, which encourages you to plan your schedule around those. Instead I only made it out to a few public screenings, which were certainly better experiences—sold out world premieres with Q&As—than watching on my laptop, or in a small screening room with a dozen other cynical critics.
In a separate incident, one of our writers asked a publicist for a screener and they turned her down, despite being accredited, because she wasn’t a Rotten Tomato approved critic. Sometimes conflicting priorities create confusion that perhaps does not best serve the film or filmmakers. Overall the live audiences were full of excitement and press and buyers who attended in-person seemed to enjoy themselves in this year’s process of discovery.
The crowd was uproarious at the world premiere of Four Samosas, directed by Ravi Kapoor, which packs a lot of laughs into an ensemble of Indian-American characters over a few days in Artesia leading up to a wedding. It’s a silly anti-heist movie that is both loving with a critical eye and absolutely hilarious. A clear comparison would be to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, both in visual style and cultural commentary. Four Samosas may lack some of the drama that made Spike Lee’s film a masterpiece, but it matches its kinetic energy and shares the wide angle close ups of its likable leads. Venk Potula as our unlucky protagonist has a striking face and will no doubt pop up in future festival darlings and studio films alike, as Karan Soni has, who co-stars here as the would-be villain aka the ‘G.O.A.T of goat shit’.
At the Village East, in the main cinema with the dome ceiling, world premieres like The Year Between announced new voices to the indie film world. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘bipolar Greta Gerwig’ but you can read my full review here. Writer/director/star Alex Heller heard it from the crowd and from her onscreen parents Steve Buscemi and J Smith Cameron who had many nice words to say about Heller’s debut. Despite her character being an absolute motherfucker, Heller mines her own bipolar disorder to great comedic and dramatic effect.
Family is also at the center of Somewhere in Queens which stars Ray Romano and Laurie Metcalf in her best role since Ladybird. Speaking of Ladybird, that’s what The Year Between reminded me of, with the mother-daughter relationship at the forefront. Somewhere in Queens has two secret weapons; 1) turns out Ray Romano is really good at directing and 2) Sebastian Maniscalco. Here Maniscalco gets more screen time than in Green Book, and he tones down the goofy to show some impressive serious moments—not to say he’s unfunny, he still cracked me up. I laughed out loud multiple times at the smart dialogue exchanges between the stereotypical-yet-three-dimensional Italian-American characters. I give it 3.5/4 meatballs!
Winner of ‘Best New Director’ and the Nora Ephron prize was Huesera, directed by Michelle Garza Cervera. Produced by the genre-experts at XYZ films, I was impressed by the production values of the special effects and body manipulations. The story is a Mexican take on Rosemary’s Baby, and it’s at its best when leaning into the local Mexican folklore and traditions. A midnight standout about the psychological toll pregnancy can take.
On the documentary side, I sampled a bunch that were all quite good. Tribeca is known for programming some of the best in non-fiction. My favorite was American Pain, which looks at the rise and fall of the prescription pill kingpins of South Florida. Fascinating characters just kept coming out of the woodwork. Director Darren Foster gets cooperation from the DEA and FBI agents that took them down, as well as many of the key players involved. He parses secretly recorded phone conversations that play out like a gangster film.
On the flipside of that coin, the benefits of medicine are proven in Of Medicine and Miracles, which I reviewed in full here. This film serves as a hopeful reminder that science mixed with perseverance can save lives and reverse diseases once thought incurable. It’s a groundbreaking story, and eye-opening if, like me, you didn’t hear about it in the news, which I assume most people didn’t, given the speed of the media cycle.
Science makes leaps and bounds with Jon Kasbe (Blood Rider) and Crystal Moselle’s Sophia that follows David Hanson, inventor of arguably the most lifelike and advanced artificial intelligence to date. His little bald-headed friend is brought to life on stage at conferences and on talk shows to impress audiences and potential investors, but one wonders how much of the humanity of Sophia is evoked through the film’s clever editing. Meeting Sophia in person, would one be more or less convinced? Or would you be able to see through the magic trick to the puppet master on the other side. The music by West Dylan Thordson is perfect.
Tribeca favors films that are set against the backdrop of New York City, and the doc Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel is about as New York as they come. Apartment tenants refuse to move out during a major renovation of a classic hotel/co-op combo building that holds many stories about legendary artists who lived there. If these walls could talk, as they say. Directors Maya Duverdier and Amelie van Elmbt project archival footage of musicians and poets against the walls of the hotel, and enchant us with ghost stories from its tenants and workers. I knew I would love this movie from the moment early on when one of the younger construction workers starts dancing with one of the old lady tenants. There is a mix of such joy and melancholy, it really sums up the feeling of living in New York City.
– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)