June Squibb and Fred Hechinger appear in Thelma by Josh Margolin, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by David Bolen)
Glen Powell stars in Hit Man by Richard Linklater.
Richard Linklater directs Glen Powell in “Hit Man”
Fred Hechinger and June Squibb star in Sundance hit “Thelma” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)
Jesse Eisenberg at the Q and A after premiere of “Real Pain. A film he wrote, directed and starred in (photo by Jane Howze)
Kieran Culkin and Jesse Eisenberg at Q and A following premiere of “A Real Pain” at Sundance Film Festival (photo by Jane Howze)
The cast of “A Real Pain” , Will Sharpe, Jennifer Grey, Kieran Culkin and Jesse Eisenberg appear at the Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival is known for showcasing the work of independent film makers and for documentaries that entertain and shine a light on social and global health, economic, environmental and societal issues. Sometimes you’re ready for a little escapism and lightheartedness though, and I found three movies at Sundance that lightened my mood. And you’ll be able to watch at least two of these movies soon.
These are the Sundance Movies to Look Forward To In 2024:
A Real Pain
A Real Pain is written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg. It follows two Jewish cousins (Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin) as they tour cultural sights in Poland, as a way to remember their late grandmother who was a Holocaust survivor. The two cousins David (Eisenberg) and Benji (Culkin) grew up as close as brothers, but as adults they live different lives and are no longer tight. David is a high achiever, neurotic and soft spoken, while Benji is extraverted, childlike, childish and obviously damaged. This buddy film balances personal pain against a backdrop of the Holocaust with laugh out loud humor that skillfully shifts to angst and existential questions.
Culkin, fresh off his Emmy win for Succession, is masterful with his comedic timing and ability to quickly shift from manic exuberance to sadness and despair. The stellar cast includes Jennifer Grey as a divorcee and Will Sharpe (White Lotus Emmy nominee) as the tour guide.
The movie received an extended standing ovation at Sundance with many in the theater crowd in tears. In the post screening Q&A Culkin got asked what it is like to be directed by Eisenberg.
“We had a pretty good chemistry at the beginning,” Culkin says. “After the first day Jesse gave me notes and I said ‘Bitch, I have some notes for you too.’ ” That had the whole theater laughing.
A Real Pain was the first Sundance premiered movie to be acquired this year, selling to Searchlight within 24 hours in a robust $10 million deal. No theatrical release date has been set yet.
Thelma tells the story of a 93-year-old grandmother who gets duped by a phone scammer masquerading as her grandson for $10,000. Inspired by Mission Impossible, she decides to get her money back with hilariously charming and touching results. Veteran 94-year-old actress June Squibb steps into a leading role for her first time in her successful 70-year career with recently deceased actor Richard Roundtree giving his final on-screen performance as her partner-in-crime.
The cast is nicely rounded out with Fred Hechinger as the grandson, Parker Posey as her daughter and Clark Gregg as the son-in-law. Director Josh Margolin does not shy away from the challenges of aging, (daily pills, few computer skills, fear of falling and the family’s worries over this 93-year-old grandmother living alone). Yet it also gives voice to the dignity and wisdom of the elderly.
Seeing Squibb at the Q&A after the movie made it even more special as she revealed that she did most of her own stunts for Thelma.
Not every movie that gets rave reviews at Sundance is well received afterward. This will not be the case with Thelma, which was the subject of a rare bidding war in this year’s festival with Magnolia Pictures planning a full theatrical release later this year.
Sundance has a new breakout star in June Squibb and I can’t wait for everyone to see this tender, heartwarming movie.
Hit Man, by Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater, is one of those rare movies that has no message, does not call for introspection, Instead, it promises you pure escapism, romance and a rip roaring good time. Probably best characterized as a “screwball comedy,” Hit Man stars Glen Powell as Gary Johnson, a nerdy professor in New Orleans who lives a quiet life with his cats Ego and Id.
After working occasionally with local police on technology issues, Johnson discovers a hidden talent for posing as a fake hitman. All goes well until Johnson falls for a client, which turns his world upside down with a deception that gets screwier, scarier (in a good way) and funnier with every turn. Hit Man is a sure-fire crowd pleaser — funny, scary, romantic and even possessing a happy ending.
At the Q&A Linklater commented that the movie is loosely — very loosely — based on a true story in Texas Monthly written by Skip Hollandsworth. To round out the Texas theme, star (and co-writer) Glen Powell is an Austin native who first worked for Linklater in high school. Although Powell has been acting for many years, he received recent acclaim for his supporting role in Top Gun: Maverick and his starring role in 2023’sAnyone But You.
Netflix acquired the delightfully fun Hit Man and it will premiere on the service on June 7.
Author’s note: Jane Howze is managing director of The Alexander Group, a national executive search firm headquartered in Houston. She has reported on the Sundance Film Festival for 15 years.