Salty Air

Provincetown fest offers more than movies–Play It Again, Tim

Dakota Johnson plays “Girlie” in “Daddio.” (Courtesy of Provincetown International Film Festival)
Written by Tim Miller

Provincetown International Film Festival is about so much more than movies. It can be a life-affirming adventure inside and outside the theater.

Naturally, the experience won’t be the same for everyone. There are no guarantees in life.

But what I’ve found over the years is that I’ve rarely felt more alive than when I’ve covered the event. And I’ve attended most of the 26 Provincetown film fests since the beginning, including the one that just ended.

It’s like reading Kerouac’s “On the Road,” or shooting pool in a barroom while a jukebox is playing Motown or the Who, or standing in a crowd of spectators watching Il Palio di Siena (a horse race like something out of Hemingway), or just sitting on a large rock on a sunny day and becoming hypnotized by the serenity of the Atlantic.

There’s something about Provincetown, especially on a warm or hot day, or semi-cool night, in June. You can feel the town’s openness to life’s possibilities, the widespread artistic expression, the heightened sense of romance/sex in the air. You’re surrounded by humanity, visitors and locals sauntering, strutting or parading down Commercial Street, and there’s such a strong awareness of connection to go along with the salty sea air and beautiful blue of the ocean off to the side. You hear laughter, observe the camaraderie, watch friends and family. The restaurants and bars, many with outside patios, are filled with people talking about all sorts of things – and my guess, and I could be wrong, is that the conversations always transcend the ordinary, with people delving into music and film and art and acting and philosophy and travel and literature and love and life’s meaning.

It leaves you with a sense of breathlessness, like you’re living in a French New Wave movie (or, during more circuslike moments, a Fellini film).

And it feels so good.

That certainly was my experience at  this year’s event, which started on Wednesday, June 12, and ended on Sunday, June 16. And that’s why simply giving a rundown of the movies I caught would seem like burying the lede. I saw a lot of good to great films, and I will get to them here. But the times spent between the films also are what make PIFF special, whether hanging out with good friends at a bar or a restaurant, catching up with colleagues and meeting filmmakers at a festival party, or relaxing on a bench in front of Town Hall and just taking in everything and everyone on the street.

Simple Sisters

The Simple Sisters at the Old Colony Tap. CAPE COD WAVE PHOTO

One of my favorite experiences was catching the Simple Sisters at the Old Colony Tap. My pals Brian Tarcy and Laura Reckford, editors of this publication, told me I had to meet up with them to see the country-folk duo at the Old Colony after I caught the opening-night film. Boy, were they right. Lydia Parkington, on cello, and Meagan Gillis, on steel guitar, are talented musicians – both perform in symphonies, Parkington in Syracuse and Gillis in New Orleans. But as they play and sing songs with titles like “Mean, Dumb and Ugly” and “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” you’re also struck by just how funny and charming they are. I became an instant fan, and they certainly won over the lively crowd at the Old Colony – which, with its slanted floors and party atmosphere, is simply one of the best dives I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The Simple Sisters will play there again on Wednesday, June 17; the Old Colony is located at 323 Commercial St. Bring your friends; you’ll have a blast. Also, check this out, courtesy of Mr. Tarcy (but please come back):

And, now …

Fest flicks

I caught six of the films in all – two in advance and four during festival week. (I probably would have seen more, but I had an especially crazy week that included an outstanding five-day summer institute for Cape Cod Community College faculty and miniature golf with my 6-year-old granddaughter – who got two holes-in-one! – on Father’s Day.)

All six – three narratives and three docs – are worth checking out.

Dakota Johnson plays “Girlie” in “Daddio.” (Courtesy of Provincetown International Film Festival)

Dakota Johnson plays “Girlie” in “Daddio.” (Courtesy of Provincetown International Film Festival)

“Daddio” (R, 101 minutes, in theaters June 27). A character known only as “Girlie” (Dakota Johnson) steps into a cab driven by Clark (Sean Penn) at JFK Airport, and as they make their way to Midtown Manhattan, the two talk, gradually stripping away their protective layers as they discuss relationships, and learn about each other and themselves in the process. Penn and Johnson are in top form in this focused, intense, moving drama from Christy Hall, making her feature-film directorial debut. **** (out of four)

Maisy Stella, left, and Aubrey Plaza in “My Old Ass.” (Courtesy of Provincetown International Film Festival)

Maisy Stella, left, and Aubrey Plaza in “My Old Ass.” (Courtesy of Provincetown International Film Festival)

“My Old Ass” (R, 88 minutes, in theaters Aug. 2). Teen Elliott (Maisy Stella) takes mushrooms and meets her 39-year-old self (Aubrey Plaza), who warns her to avoid someone named Chad. Then teen Elliott meets Chad (Percy Hynes White). Writer-director Megan Park’s bittersweet, warm coming-of-age comedy suggests that love leaves us open to pain and tragedy, but that it’s worth it. ***½

“Merchant Ivory” (112 minutes). Stephen Soucy’s in-depth documentary covers the personal and professional relationship of director James Ivory and producer Ismael Merchant, and the films they made (mostly) with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: “A Room With a View,” “Howards End” and “The Remains of the Day” among them. Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson are among the interviewees who provide insiders’ views of the filmmakers and their work. ***½

“Liza: A Truly Terrific Absolutely True Story” (104 minutes). Liza Minnelli went from being known as the daughter of Judy Garland (and director Vincente Minnelli) to becoming a megastar performer in her own right. Director Bruce David Klein (who spoke at the festival screening) devotes much of the film to Minnelli’s many mentors (including director-choreographer Bob Fosse and French singer Charles Aznavour) while tracing her life and career up until her star faded around the end of the ‘80s. Most fascinating is how, despite Minnelli exhibiting a theatrical personality, you can sense that, deep down, exists a caring, genuine person. ***½

“Sing Sing” (R, 105 minutes, in theaters July 12). Colman Domingo, who picked up PIFF’s Excellence in Acting Award this year at the fest, stars as an incarcerated person who takes part in a theatrical group in New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison. Based on a true story and featuring many formerly incarcerated actors playing themselves, director Greg Kwedar’s sensitive drama shows the power of art and community.

“Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution” (TV-MA, 100 minutes, on Netflix). This was the festival’s opening-night film, with writer-director Page Hurwitz and stars Judy Gold and Joel Kim Booster in attendance. Hurwitz’s documentary presents a historical overview of LGBTQ+ stand-up comedy, showing how it has reflected and influenced American society. Featuring interviews and clips of Lily Tomlin, Sandra Bernhard, Eddie Izzard, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho and many other comedians. Highlights include a rare, controversial clip of Richard Pryor confronting a gay audience and a look at the career of Robin Tyler, the first lesbian or gay comic to come out on national TV. ***

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

Please like Cape Cod Wave  on Facebook.

Cape Cod Wave Magazine covers the character & culture of Cape Cod. Please see our Longform stories.


Tim Miller

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. 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.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

Leave a Comment

error: Content is protected !!