Sometimes, whether by design or dumb luck, you save the best for last.
Boy, was I lucky at the 25th annual Provincetown International Film Festival. I wound up catching seven fest films (one in Boston in advance), and, of those, four were excellent. My favorite, by far, I saw last: “August at twenty-two.”
Directed by Sophia Castuera and written by Ali Edwards, it’s a bittersweet comedy about a young actress, Cal, who’s just out of school and navigating life on her own in New York City. Cal – played by screenwriter Edwards – auditions; she hangs out with her best friend, Bobby (Jorge Felipe Guevara), a singer-songwriter; she goes to parties where she meets other struggling young artists her age.
At one such party she reconnects with Jacob (Clay Singer), a childhood friend for whom she clearly harbors romantic feelings. But there’s a hitch: Jacob, to Cal’s surprise, has a girlfriend, Em (Lilli Kay), a photographer. Despite her disappointment, Cal starts to hang out with Jacob, Em and their social circle, and Bobby becomes an afterthought. Meanwhile, Cal and Em develop strong feelings for each other.
Stories about twenty-somethings trying to figure out life, career, love in the big city are nothing new (an all-time favorite: Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan”), but “August at twenty-two” is special. At a certain point during its festival screening I realized that I had gone from enjoying it to loving it, and from then on I kept thinking, “Don’t blow it. … Don’t blow it” – and by that I meant with some lame and/or contrived ending. Not only do Castuera and Edwards not blow it, they deliver about as perfect an ending as I can imagine. (I had a similar experience watching another character study of a young woman, Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky,” starring Sally Hawkins. It topped my list of best films from 2008.)
Edwards’ performance as Cal provides the heart of “August,” and she’s breathtakingly good. There isn’t a false note in her work, whether Cal is acting like a bratty teenager during a car ride with her father (a very funny scene) or fighting confused emotions while alone with Jacob or Em. Edwards has a gift for expressing feelings subtly but effectively, like when Cal experiences the gut-punch of meeting Jacob’s girlfriend or when, while posing for a daylong photo shoot for Em, she becomes increasingly attracted to her.
Even though she’s playing an actress, Edwards never seems to be acting (except, appropriately, during Cal’s audition scenes). She imbues Cal with the kind of genuine, endearing charisma that makes us root for her. Edwards is a star in the making – though, judging from her smart, knowing script, she also has quite a future as a screenwriter.
Director Castuera also makes a strong impact behind the camera. By wisely choosing to shoot the film mostly in closeup, she depicts Cal’s story with a striking intimacy. We don’t feel like we’re merely observing this young person’s story; we’re living it with her.
And we feel privileged to do so.
“August at twenty-two” isn’t just my favorite movie that I saw at the Provincetown International Film Festival; it’s my favorite movie of any so far in 2023.
So where can you see it? Edwards, who appeared at the festival with Castuera, emailed me that they have a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures and “are releasing to VOD on all major streaming platforms with a big push on iTunes on July 25.”
Meanwhile, I’ll be sure to let you know if I hear of any local screenings of this must-see film. (Who’s your buddy? I am. That’s who.) **** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.