Lightning finally struck at Sundance last night, electrifying an audience inside the massive Eccles Theatre after watching Marc Webb's "anti-romantic comedy" 500 Days of Summer, and raising them to their feet in a standing ovation. Take it with a grain of salt if you must, since the film's multi-talented star Zooey Deschanel was on hand alongside her director, co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the films writers Scott Neustader and Michael Weber, which plainly creates a certain rooting interest. But every film at a Sundance public screening has stars and filmmakers on hand, and few get this kind of instant response. How do I know? I know because I wasn't there.
Instead I was on a bus returning from a screening of R. J. Cutler's VOGUE documentary The September Issue, which let out at about the same time as 500 Days. It was an interesting vantage point, because everyone's wired nowadays, and Sundance is all about being first with the buzz. So the cellphones and text messages started going off immediately. One comment read to me out loud by a fellow passenger: " 500 Days of Summer isn't just the best movie at Sundance, it's the best movie ever."
If 500 Days charges up the festival, it will be not a moment too soon. So far my own sense is that this was turning out to be mostly another proficiently okay year, not as bad as 2008 but not spectacular either, which is not what Sundance or indie film generally needs in these desperate times for alternative content. The recession is visible everywhere here, and that comes with some advantages: small crowds, none of the ridiculous traffic jams that used to make this quiet mountain town into a mirror image of LA's 5 Freeway at rush hour, and a certain humility in the far fewer showbiz types who've made it to Utah this year, most of whom are grateful to be in work rather than dropping names and sneering at their lesser men. The kids and hopefuls who are the heart of this festival for me are here in force, because they know how to deal with fiscal adversity, having never had anything yet to begin with, and they sleep on floors, five and six to a room.
I had drinks last night with Laura Kim, a talented former exec at the former specialty arm Warner Independent Pictures, someone I've known and liked for over 15 years, and she was wistful and charming and more relaxed than I've ever known her to be. She smiled when I picked up the tab and said it was still weird for her to have someone else buy, she'd been handling talent and clients for so long. Laura's got some exciting and plausible future plans. She's making a fresh start, and maybe Sundance can too now that a movie has materialized which is turning into a "must see." Still, there's Shasta Cola in the press room (4 for 79 cents at the 99 Cents Only store) and Robert Redford began the fest in true showbiz style: by limiting expectations about attendance and bidding wars. We are in interesting times.
later today -- watch this space for my own thoughts on this now very anticipated title.