South by Southwest – Day 1
Day one for the 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival and it is raining and it is freezing. And I hate the cold – so it was all about that today. But if there was any warmth, it was delivered by the press department here since due to some stereotypical bad journalist lameness and laziness on my part, I showed up today with no info and little idea of where to go and what to do. I won’t even pretend I was testing them. I was just an ass.
See, I had been sent some official coupon code to enter into an online form to secure my press pass and of course I filed the e-mail, then pulled it up the day-of and way too late. If anyone should know better, it would be me. But instead, I was the annoying “can you help me even though I clearly don’t deserve your consideration” guy. And to the absolute credit (and my benefit), the Head of PR – Rebecca Feferman – peeled herself away from other crises to walk me over to Jarod Neece, who took care of me in short order.
I have to say that I have a lot of big brother pride seeing Rebecca kicking PR butt here in Austin, injecting organization into a film festival that defies the very idea of that to its core. I was with Rebecca during some of her formative PR years in the trenches at IDPR and had more than a few long talks with her about how this stuff worked and how to navigate her way around the nonsense to get to the real job we were being paid for and she’s light years ahead of where I was at her age.
The charm of SXSW is rock n’ roll indie filmmaking and you-saw-it-and-heard-it-here-first sensibility, but there is a very welcome growth and character adjustment in just a year under Festival Producer Janet Pierson and Rebecca. It’s a cliché way to put it, but Janet is a breath of fresh air as a Festival Producer. She has an open “How am I doing?” approach to this that is a pleasure to be in the company of. The film festival world can be a very clique-ish, insiders kind of thing that can be irritating to have to deal with from the outside in and it’s nice to have people like Janet and Kelly Williams of the Austin Film Festival as the AFI DALLAS counterparts to the south. Soon, I think you’ll see some joint ventures here in Texas that will boggle the minds of some old-school and tired competitive folks elsewhere.
The first film tonight was John Hamburg’s I LOVE YOU, MAN. But before I could get into the movie I had to wait in a huge-ass line that wound around the block. I hadn’t been in a line this long since BEVERLY HILLS COP II opened in Westwood. I should’ve known better then, I definitely do now. And the admission I did that for that movie is even more embarrassing than my clueless journalist behavior was. Okay, maybe a tie.
Anyway, so while I’m in line this guy passes by and does the time honored film festival “I know you but don’t know your face so I’ll try to scan your badge as I walk by just in case I need to stop and say hello and then ask you to screen my film, buy my film, sell my film, write about my film, film, film, film, me, me, me” move. I mean, I recognized the guy and couldn’t place his name either, but damn…
So – we finally are all ushered into the Paramount Theater. Which is great. It’s beautiful, ornate in the right way, intimate yet seats a ton of people apparently. I have to image that it’s a died and gone to heaven moment for a filmmaker to screen a film in that indie cathedral.
The film will take its rightful place in the Apatow comedy family tree. It’s got clever takes on the dynamics of male-male bonding and Paul Rudd, Jason Segal and Rashida Jones are supported by an insane top loading of comedy talent. It’s one thing to have ace players like Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly at your service in supporting roles, but every other moment another former member of The State or Broken Lizard or The Daily Show was being trotted out in a supporting role. After awhile I felt like I needed to push myself away from the table because the Jewish casting mother wouldn’t stop feeding me comedy cameos.
Honestly, I sat down to watch the film resisting what is starting to feel like an assembly line of these types of comedies – some male bonding and either drug humor or poo + pee = teehee stuff which is all balanced by a lot of heart – but in the end it wins. I give up. It’s funny. I cared. Okay? Stop it already.
Next up was EXTERMINATORS. Directed by John Inwood from Suzanne Weinert’s script, the film stars Heather Graham, Amber Heard and Jennifer Coolidge as three women with some anger issues thanks to the men in their lives. The story takes off when a couple of them decide to make a career out of male pest removal. As Coolidge’s character says in their anger management group, “I’m Stella and I use my car as a weapon.” Inwood comfortably infuses the proper mix of his SCRUBS skills with Weinert’s lines – which skew a little more to the twisted side of town: “When I was in my dark place, I watched a lot of LAW & ORDER.” Or a woman dismissing Graham’s predicament after she had punched a guy over a blouse in a sales bin: “All that trouble for a synthetic blend.”
Inwood also mined the SCRUBS team for Sam Lloyd as the film’s antagonist – an IRS agent with a pervy, videotaping fetish. He plays it like an extra creepy, hold the dreamy version of James Spader’s SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE role. As much as I personally enjoyed it, I think that ultimately, the film will go as far as your appreciation of Graham, Heard and Coolidge. And for me – Jennifer Coolidge turned loose trumps all.
Even the freezing rain.