New Directors/New Films Series at Film Society of Lincoln Center Opens

christmasagainArriving soon after the Oscars, in the first two weeks of Spring, the 44th edition of the “New Directors/New Films” series remains an excellent way for New York film lovers to warm up to a fresh year of film discoveries. Co-curated by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the series of 26 international features and 16 short films is ripe with debuts, as well as new titles by promising directors. As always, the selection amounts to a expertly-informed survey of audacious world cinema today: five of the feature films are from the U.S., six from France, two from Argentina, and one each from the UK, Italy, Colombia, South Korea, China, India, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Israel, Jordan, Belgium/Netherlands and Hungary.

The opening night film, a sensation at this year’s Sundance Festival, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, is based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s much-loved semi-autobiographical graphic novel about her sexual awakening in 1970s San Francisco. British actress Bel Powley delivers a remarkable performance as Minnie Goetz, an aspiring cartoonist/illustrator whose debaucheries start by sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). Writer/Director Marielle Heller, who previously adapted the book for the stage, is a perfect match for Gloeckner’s story. Never moralistic, the film is tender, funny and wise, with great period locations and gorgeous animations that perfectly adumbrate the narrative. Kristen Wiig gives a standout performance as Minnie’s free-spirited mother. Read more

Stand-up but Don’t Deliver

The setup of “Obvious Child” may remind you a bit of “Seinfeld” — a Jewish New York comedian turns the mundane into standup material. In this case, however, the comic is a young Brooklyn woman named Donna Stern as played by relative newcomer Jenny Slate. Donna’s material about abortion isn’t exactly gold though it’s an improvement over her usual set of unfunny and icky bodily function jokes. [The best joke in the entire film is actually delivered by another comic: how his dad reminds him of both Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.] She’s already lost one boyfriend due to her onstage over-sharing, her job at the anti-imperialist, non-repressive non-colonialist bookstore is about to end and her academic mom’s idea of advice comes in the form of a spreadsheet. Attention from a very nice though not-her-type straight arrow turns into a one-night stand that leads to her unplanned pregnancy.

The main business of the film—which sometimes threatens to be more cute than funny but ultimately won me over—is about Donna’s eventual thaw to the goy (a winning performance by “The Office”‘s Jake Lacy). A rom-com whose love story takes off post-abortion probably won’t make it to many pro-lifer Netflix queues but others will appreciate the delicate balance of humor and emotion in this hugely likable film. It doesn’t hurt that the film sports a great ensemble cast including Richard Kind and Polly Draper as Donna’s divorced parents, David Cross as a creepy comedy club owner, and Gaby Hoffman as her roomie. Confidently directed by Gillian Robespierre, this first feature premiered at Sundance earlier this year and is the centerpiece of the upcoming New Director’s/New Films festival at Lincoln Center. While it’s hard to see much of a future for Donna Stern, I predict big things for Slate and Robespierre. Read more