By Monday evening, crowds at the Eccles theatre had quieted for the premiere of “Adventureland,” Miramax’s 80s tale of love between two post-college kids who spend their summer working at a depressed amusement park. The film is from director Greg Mottola, who worked on “Superbad” and directed episodes of “Undeclared” and “Arrested Development.” The idea behind “Adventureland” came from Mottola’s experience working in a Long Island amusement park the summer after graduating from college in 1987. “Squid and the Whale” and Michael Cera-esque star Jesse Eisenberg takes on the Mottola-inspired role in the film. He plays opposite “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart, the troubled-but-beautiful co-worker Eisenberg becomes smitten with over the summer. Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig play the ridiculous married couple who own the park, and give performances reminiscent of their comic skits on “Saturday Night Live.”
Though the fim was amusing, the less-than-packed theatre didn’t seem thrilled with it: “That was just a less-interesting version of “(500) Days of Summer,” said one audience member as she exited the theatre.
Then again, maybe the problem was that partying was beginning to take its toll on Sundance festivalgoers on Monday. In the evening, industry vets gathered at Zoom restaurant for the subdued Cinetic party. Directors and execs stood around quietly sipping on drinks, while a gaggle of bleary-eyed film critics were spotted noshing on scant hors d’oeuvres.
Down the street at the William Morris bash, at 10:30 p.m security informed lines of people who already had coveted wristbands that the party had reached capacity. As throngs waited outside in the 15 degree weather, many became enraged after attempts to reach their publicists on their Blackberries and gain admittance to the party failed. Indeed, one man whose wife was stuck waiting in line got so angry he threatened to have the William Morris assistants working the door fired.
Once inside, a number of people complained the party was lackluster: a Chipotle burrito bar remained nearly empty and a spirited DJ couldn’t get the crowd moving.
The audience at the Eccles theatre on Saturday instantly fell in love with “Sin Nombre,” a gritty tale of immigrants escaping a world of poverty and gang violence. The flick, which is being distributed by Focus Features in March, is the first-feature debut for Cary Fukunaga, a former NYU grad student whose short film was on the shortlist for the Academy Awards last year. Edgar Flores, the 20-year-old star of the film choked back tears on-stage as he recalled his days of working in an auto shop before he headed out on his first-ever audition for Fukunaga. At the dinner to celebrate the film held at the Blind Dog restaurant after the movie, Focus CEO James Schamus called Fukunaga’s debut “the birth of one of the greatest directors any of us have met in our life.” President Andrew Carpen added that the film fit nicely into the company’s new international focus, noting that the studio intends to distribute films that may be specific to one country locally or internationally, depending on the situation.
Fukunaga, 31, had to jet off to Variety’s 10 Directors To Watch celebration during the dinner, but returned to tell the story of the two years he spent researching the Mara Salvatrucha gang before heading to Latin America, where he spent time travelling dangerously on top of a train carrying immigrants toward the United States, just as he depicts in the film. He didn’t tell his parents about the journey, during which a group of bandits shot and killed one man aboard the train. He befriended two Honduran cousins who took him under their wing, but said he felt remorseful when he had to leave them behind to return to his life in the States. “It was a very intense experience because I felt like I was betraying them – I was heading back to my nice hotel with my money, and they were stuck in this life or death situation. That was when I felt like I couldn’t ignore this story and decided to tell it on screen,” he said.
The ICM party on Saturday night at 50 Cent’s Vitaminwater house (now how often do you get to say something like that?) was the ticket everybody was after. As guests in taxis arrived at the gate after 10 p.m., a frantic publicist informed disappointed supplicants that unless their SUVs were filled with celebrities, they’d have to turn around. The party was over-capacity. A few too many ICM agents had arrived with entourages of plus-20.
But your intrepid correspondent made it inside. Once there, it became apparent that Hollywood hype had prevailed once again. The only familiar face was half of the D-list fashion designer duo Heatherette. (Though hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons was spotted arriving after midnight).
Earlier in the day, festival director Geoff Gilmore lauded first-time director Shana Feste’s “The Greatest” at its premiere on Saturday afternoon. “This is one of the most remarkable debuts I’ve seen at Sundance in a long time,” Gilmore said. The film, which tells the story of a family struggling to overcome the loss of their son in a car accident, certainly seemed to touch the audience in the packed Eccles theatre, where viewers gave Feste a booming standing ovation as the director humbly choked back tears.
During the Q&A, star Pierce Brosnan, who plays the distraught father and husband to wife Susan Sarandon, described the experience as “having the most happiest of times being miserable.” Sarandon was tight-lipped, only saying she “found it horrible” to watch herself on-screen. But it was newcomer Carey Mulligan, who plays the girlfriend carrying the child of the couple’s late son, who was the talk of the room. Mulligan, a British actress, is also winning acclaim for her role in another Sundance flick, “An Education.” After the film’s conclusion, red-eyed audience members trickled out into the lobby and throngs of women in the overcrowded ladies room were looking for mirror-space to fix their running mascara. The films seems like it could play well commercially despite its heavy emotional themes, though it does seem eerily familiar to “Moonlight Mile,” a film about grieving parents which also starred Sarandon.
After the Saturday evening premiere of “500 Days of Summer,” Fox Searchlight’s quirky love story starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel seemed to be the resounding favorite so far at this year’s festival. The first-time feature for director Marc Webb, the film tells the story of a young man who writes greeting cards (Gordon-Levitt) who becomes smitten with his co-worker (Deschanel). Before the screening, Webb admitted he’d worked as a volunteer at the festival when he was a senior in high school, valet parking cars for Sundance founder Robert Redford. Gordon-Levitt’s role is sure to endear a throng of teenage girls and is also vaguely reminiscent of his first big role as a dopey, lovelorn high schooler in “10 Things I Hate About You.” He signed on to the film when he heard Deschanel was attached, calling her “the greatest thing alive” and prompting “awwws” from the audience.
Afterward, the stars of young indie Hollywood gathered at the EW loft for the “500 Days of Summer” party, where star Joseph Gordon-Levitt stood in the center of the room fielding a seemingly endless stream of congratulations for his winning role in the flick. Co-star Zooey Deschanel was seated upstairs where she huddled on a couch talking to girlfriends, “Juno” star Olivia Thirlby was surrounded by a throng of adoring gentleman and Zoe Kravitz laughed with castmates from “The Greatest.” Surprisingly, director Brett Ratner was spotted without his slew of usual models, though he was noticed earlier in the day rushing in late to the Anna Wintour documentary “The September Issue” with a leggy brunette.
-- Amy Kaufman