Sam Cowell (Rachel Sennott) used to be funny. Her stand-up comedy acts would elicit uproarious laughter from the crowd and hate comments on the internet. All of that ended when a traumatic event sent her into a deep depression. With the support of her roommates, Sam navigates her new life with PTSD. But she’s forced to face her past when Brooke (Olga Petsa), the teen she used to care for as a nanny, goes missing.
Written and directed by Ally Pankiw, I Used to Be Funny is a heartfelt drama that tackles PTSD and depression while balancing the poignancy with humor. The story alternates between the present day and the events that lead to Sam’s trauma. A slow burn keeps the audience both anticipating and dreading the moment that led Sam to her current mental state. I can’t say enough good things about Rachel Sennott who shines in this dramatic role while still also showcasing her knack for comedy. I was fully invested in Sam’s story and I think audiences will too.
I Used to Be Funny had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
Technology is changing our every day lives and a rapid-fire pace. We live at the pace of social media and the intersection between the real world and the internet became even more enmeshed than ever before. The power of the internet is inescapable.
The COVID pandemic brought on a level of digital disruption that had real world ramifications. R/Wallstreetbets became a gathering place for average folks to become retail investors. They turned GameStop ($GME) and AMC ($AMC) into meme stocks creating a short squeeze that adversely affected hedgefund investors and short sellers. They gamified their work with apps like Robinhood and with memes, symbols and jargon like “diamond hands” and “tendies”. All the extra time at home gave Americans an opportunity to learn financial strategies and turn it into a game that both made them a lot of money and disrupted the financial market. At the same time another form of disruption was brewing online, building steam during the 2020 presidential election and culminating in the January 6th, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
The internet allows for varying levels of anonymity. Behind avatars, online users can expose a darker side of humanity with all of the dangerous ideologies and harmful rhetoric that comes with it.
Directed by Ondi Timoner, The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution is a high-paced and engrossing documentary about our new age of finance and digital disruption. This subject matter can be difficult to understand especially for the uninitiated who are unfamiliar with r/Wallstreetbets, cryptocurrency, memes and TikTok. Even the chronically online, like myself, need a bit of guidance to understand this complex online world and all the jargon that goes with it. Timoner uses facets of internet culture to visually tell her story while also pausing throughout the movie to define specific words and phrases that need to be clarified in order for the current conversation happening on screen to be fully understood. This helps the viewer not get lost in the technicalities and enriches the film by providing both visual entertaining with information.
“…the only way to approach this journey was to interview people across all aspects of the disruption and to tell the resulting story in the same language that drove it: with Tik-Toks, memes, and fast-cuts that mimic the online world of the new generation that fueled this movement.”
Director Ondi Timoner
- Notable talking heads in the film include
- R/Wallstreetbets founder Jamie Rogozinski
- The Real Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort
- Former White House Communications director and founder of SkyBridge Capital Anthony Scaramucci
- Investor Raoul Pal who provides the viewer with valuable insights
- Influencers Blayne Macauley, Hugh Henne, ProThe Doge, Taylor Price
- Investors, artists, and more.
The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution presents complicated subject matter in a way that is both approachable and entertaining.
The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
Growing up in a tight-knit and ultra-religious community hasn’t been easy for 17 year old Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen). Her elders, including her mother Heidi (Wrenn Schmidt), wield shame over the youth as a way to control them. It seems like everything Jem does, regardless of intent, draws attention to her body in a way that’s sinful. She struggles to connect with other members of the community until 28 year old youth pastor Owen (Lewis Pullman) comes back into town. Owen briefly fled his loveless marriage to Misty (Jessamine Burgum) for a mission trip to Puerto Rico. He’s come back a changed man. When Jem and Owen are reunited, it’s clear that there is an intense connection between the two. Their shared desire for quiet rebellion brings them together. Jem is torn between her obligations to her family, especially to her father Paul (Jimmi Simpson) who once led a secular life as a musician and now suffers from depression and addiction, and her growing lust for Owen.
Directed by Laurel Parmet, The Starling Girl’s tale of forbidden lust in a religious community will both titillate and disturb viewers. While the age gap is off-putting, Scanlen and Pullman are a magnetic pair and they do a great job depicting the emotional consequences of repression. Shame is a huge theme and viewers get to witness the many ways it rears its ugly head in Jem’s world. As someone who grew up in a very strict religion, I didn’t quite understand how there could be so many circumstances in which Jem and Owen were allowed to be alone together. Even a courtship scene in which Jem is matched with Owen’s brother has them alone and without an assigned chaperone. Alas, youth pastors having inappropriate relationships with minors is nothing new so these scenarios already do happen.
The Starling Girl screened at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are bonded by their lifelong friendship and shared experience as lesbian misfits at their high school. They both have their eye on cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber). Their awkwardness becomes a roadblock in their quest to get laid. When Josie injures Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the star of the football team and an idol on campus, her crush Isabel is impressed. PJ and Josie soon concoct a plan. They start a girls-only fight club on campus, with the guise of building community, in order to impress their crushes. They even trick their teacher Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch), who is otherwise distracted by his divorce, into sponsoring them. What begins as a ruse becomes more earnest as the club members feel more empowered by their new skills and each other. All the events lead up to a football game between two rival high schools.
Directed by Emma Seligman, Bottoms is absolutely bonkers in the best way possible. The film unabashedly leans into its ridiculousness and is bolstered two strong leads. High school cliches are turned up several notches to great comedic effect. The story was co-written by Seligman and Sennott, their sophomore collaboration after the hit indie film Shiva Baby (2020).
My only quibble is that the romantic pairs, both lesbian and straight, have little chemistry. You have to suspend your disbelief in order to buy that these young people are into each other.
The cast is really stupendous. In addition to Sennott and Edebri, who have great on screen camaraderie, Marshawn Lynch, Miles Fowler and Ruby Cruz also shine in their respective roles. Bottoms is great fun and sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Bottoms had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and is distributed by Orion Pictures.
Donna Summer achieved a level of fame and adoration that few singers have been able to attain. “Love To Love You”, “Last Dance”, and “She Works Hard for the Money” were all major hits and became anthems for sexuality, indulgence and feminism. Despite her incredible celebrity, Donna Summer had always been an enigma. Fiercely private, when she wasn’t on stage Summer was off-limits.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams and Summer’s daughter Brooklyn Sudano, Love To Love You, Donna Summer gives viewers a peak at the real woman behind the iconic image. The documentary is comprised with archival footage from performances, television appearances and home movies along with a few scenes of Brooklyn Sudano in present day interacting with her family. There is no real narration, instead Summer’s story is told primarily through audio interviews with family members and some archival interviews from Summer herself. The film does address her religious beliefs and the controversy surrounding them during the 1980s.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer isn’t as revelatory as it promises to be and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Donna Summer was and continues to be an enigma and although this documentary gives us a look at her celebrity and personal life, it does so in a fairly biased and roundabout way that will ultimately leave viewers unsatisfied.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer had its US premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and will be released by HBO in May.