Provincetown, 4:30 p.m. Friday:
There’s so much to do and see at the Provincetown International Film Festival that, no matter what you choose, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re missing out on something – because you probably are.
Right now, for instance (well, not right now as you read this, but right now as I write this), I’m in the festival hospitality suite. I could be at a festival film. I could seek out movie folks to interview. I could be outside on busy Commercial Street – it’s a ridiculously lovely day – people watching.
Instead, I’m in this suite typing because I haven’t had time to write anything about the fest yet.
I feel guilty. Then again, if I didn’t attempt to write, and took advantage of one of the other enticements, I’d feel guilty about not writing.
The point is (and, yes, I know it probably has taken me waaaaay too long to get to the point), the Provincetown fest, like the town itself, provides an embarrassment of riches.
PIFF opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday (with additional related screenings on Monday). I drove in from the Mid-Cape on Thursday and saw two movies, drank beer with friends, had a burger that brought appreciative tears to my eyes, and drove home a happy boy. Today I drove back here, saw a movie, had lunch at the Box Lunch (had my usual – “The Guac,” with no onions and extra hots; it’s quite possibly the greatest sandwich/wrap ever invented). Then I headed over to the hospitality suite (where they were serving food from the Box Lunch!) and started typing. I plan to catch at least one more movie tonight, and then either a third or I’ll go to a fest party.
Is it any wonder my time spent annually at this festival, now in its 25th year, is always a highlight of my year?
But let’s get to the movies (finally, you say).
“Joy Ride.” Actually, I’m cheating here. “Joy Ride” isn’t playing at the festival until 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Town Hall. I saw it earlier this week at an advance screening in Boston. But what a great choice for PIFF. Sometimes movies in the “raunchy comedy” genre are crude for the sake of being crude, without being funny. “Joy Ride” definitely has plenty of graphic gags, but it’s also hilarious. Like “The Hangover” movies and “Bridesmaids,” it’s about a group of friends (or frenemies) on a misadventure – in this case, four single Asian American women traveling in China who wind up looking for the birth mother of one of them. Adele Lim, who wrote “Crazy Rich Asians,” makes her directorial debut, and she delivers the story and the sharp comic dialogue at a super-quick pace. And the foursome playing the pals – Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu and Sabrina Wu – create characters that are so entertaining they could all have separate movies devoted to them. Beneath all of the humor, the film has thoughtful things to say about identity, friendship and much more. ***½ (out of four)
Marstons Mills, 1 a.m. Saturday:
OK, I didn’t get the whole column written because I had to head off to another movie (and then a festival party) before heading home.
To continue with the fest flicks I’ve seen so far:
“Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed.” Stephen Kijak’s documentary on the Hollywood superstar’s career, life and death – of AIDS, at age 59, in 1985 – provides a fascinating portrait of a man leading a double life. First, there was the public version of the actor, the ultimate symbol of heterosexual masculinity, in “Giant,” “All That Heaven Allows” and even fluff like “Pillow Talk.” Then there was the private, closeted gay man living a life that would lead to the destruction of his career if it were ever revealed publicly. Kijak’s film is filled with interviews old and new, from lovers, co-stars (like Piper Laurie), and even Hudson himself. Kijak uses clips from Hudson’s films that include dialogue related to the actor’s hidden life, but they’re out of context and too gimmicky. Otherwise, this is an excellent, in-depth, revealing biography. The fest will screen it again at 11 a.m. Sunday, at the Art House 1. ***½
“Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy.” Another compelling documentary, this one, from director Nancy Buirski, presents a behind-the-scenes look at “Midnight Cowboy,” the only X-rated movie ever to win the best-picture Oscar (in 1969). It immediately grabs you with Jon Voight’s audition tape for “Cowboy,” in which the actor stays in character as Joe Buck while fielding questions, and it never lets go. Among many other things, the doc covers the life and career of openly gay British director John Schleslinger, who refused to compromise with this gritty tale about the unlikely friendship that develops between street hustler Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) and naive wannabe stud Buck in a seedy, unforgiving New York City. Buirski considers the film’s impact, while providing historical context related to the period “Cowboy” was made (the Vietnam War, the ‘60s attitudes toward gay people and others, etc.). “Desperate Souls” was only shown once at the fest (which is unfortunate), so keep an eye out for it. ***½
“The Pod Generation.” Director Sophie Barthes’ satire, set in the near future, considers the impact of AI and questions whether technology is eroding our quality of life. Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor play a couple who opt for having a baby by using an artificial womb. Complications, naturally, arise. The issues explored here couldn’t be more timely, but the story itself develops slowly and never catches fire. The film will screen again at 6 p.m. Sunday at Art House 2. **½
“Art Thief.” Town Hall was packed for the sole fest screening of this comedy-romance-heist film, which was shot in Provincetown by local artist-gallery owner-filmmaker Arthur Egeli. Egeli and many of his cast members (including veteran Boston comic Lenny Clarke) were in attendance and took part in a Q-and-A after the screening, and there was an excitement in the air that makes such fest screenings so much fun. Egeli’s film, which considers what might have occurred behind the scenes of the still unsolved 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, has some funny moments, and it’s nice to see familiar Provincetown sites on the big screen. A problem (the result, Egeli said, of his limited budget) is that when settings are supposed to shift to Boston or elsewhere, they still look like Provincetown. It’s an unfortunate distraction. **½
That’s it for now. I’ll be back at the festival later today (yikes), and I’ll let you know how it goes.
More festival information: provincetownfilm.org/festival.
** 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.