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Saturday, December 09, 2023

The Wisconsin Film Festival brings charming projects to Madison

The 19th annual Wisconsin Film Festival brought movie lovers from across the state together in the heart of Madison to watch some of the quirkiest and unique films from all over the world. The wide variety of programs screened made it a festival for all movie lovers. They ranged from collections of shorts (including one very cute stop animation short made by a fourth-grade class here in Madison) to a feature about the Green Bay Packers. Here are some of the highlights from my week at the film fest.

Person to Person

I actually dragged my roommate off campus to go see this one with me. But anything with Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson in it together is worth the hassle. I went into this movie knowing nothing about the film’s premise. To be honest, I stopped reading the film fest guide from excitement after I saw Cera and Jacobson mentioned. Director Dustin Guy Defa in his Q&A after the film credited “The Peanuts” as an inspiration to his work, and it made total sense. It was a quiet movie that followed several people throughout their lives in New York City. The storylines didn’t necessarily join together in the end, some weaved through one another, but it was focused on these people and their lives. Jacobson played a woman named Claire, shadowing a journalist named Phil (Cera). They both really played into this uncomfortableness that they do so well. I found myself laughing out loud at how anxiety-ridden their journey to get a story was (and thanked myself for not going into journalism myself). Tavi Gevinson (who you may know from Rookie magazine) was a surprise bonus to the movie (again, I really should have finished reading the film fest guide) playing Wendy, a teenage girl uncomfortable with the idea of modern romance. She was really funny and genuine throughout the whole movie. For as quiet and calm as the film was, it was equal parts hilarious and relatable.

Infinity Baby

Tuesday at the Marquee in Union South was dedicated to everyone’s favorite burly man, Nick Offerman. He was actually here on campus as well, doing Q&A’s after most of the features shown that day. The evening concluded with what was one of the oddest films I’ve seen. “Infinity Baby” is a black-and-white film that takes place in the distant future where stem cell research has lead us to an accident in which babies no longer age. Nick Offerman plays the CEO of Infinity Baby, the company in charge. Kieran Culkin stars as an employee of the company, but really the company is only the backdrop for this bizarre world. Culkin’s character is this incredibly immature man who has trouble finding a girlfriend who meets up to his ridiculous standards, so he introduces them to his mother (the hilarious Megan Mullally, who is actually married to Offerman) so she can scare the women away. There is also a plotline with two marketers of the company trying to get people to take care for these babies, but end up trapped caring for one, showing us the real complications of these “forever babies.” It was incredibly dry, which works so well with the cast, especially Offerman, Mullally and Culkin. The black-and-white aspect of the film helps keep it in this ambiguous futuristic time period and adds to the quirkiness of the film. It didn’t all quite make sense in the end, but I think that’s exactly what the director wanted.

Golden Exits

I actually did read the film guide’s synopsis of this film, but was still taken by surprise. Though to be fair, when I was told Adam Horovitz (who we all know and love from the Beastie Boys) was in a film, I definitely came in with certain expectations. “Golden Exits” tells the story of two separate families and how they are disrupted when Naomi (Emily Browning), a beautiful young girl from Australia, moves to town for the summer. I really wanted to love this movie, I mean, it has Chloe Sevigny in it as well as a member of the Beastie Boys, so I really felt like I should, but this movie didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The film basically showed how two men are unable to keep their cool when a beautiful girl enters their lives. Horovitz played Noami’s boss and Sevigny’s husband, who continues to only hire young female interns to help him with his archiving work. He was so unlikable throughout the whole film, though I think we were supposed to sympathize for him. Jason Schwartzman played Naomi’s old childhood friend, who was equally as helpless to her charm despite his happy marriage. The entire film tried to get the audience to blame Naomi for entering the lives of these grown men who are very capable of restraining themselves. I found myself mad throughout the film more than anything else, which I’m not entirely sure was the intention of the director.

My Life as a Zucchini

This is a really beautiful and touching claymation film about a young orphan boy who moves into a foster home where he learns about what it means to trust and love one another. It has a great cast of voice actors (Offerman, Ellen Page, Will Forte) who brought the characters to life. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature this year at the Oscars and it definitely deserves that nomination. It was really touching and adorable at the same time.

Fake Jewels

This was one of Wisconsin’s Own narrative shorts (directed by Kate Feldt and Wesley Morgan, two Wisconsin natives) shown on Saturday afternoon. It told a really beautiful story between two best friends within six minutes, much better than most films out there do in an hour and a half. It touched on nostalgia and the obstacles friendships must face throughout the years. I loved seeing such a fantastic portrayal of female friendship that my cheeks hurt by the end of it from smiling so much.

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