A fresh new voice in romantic comedy, Gillian Robespierre may surprise you! “Obvious Child” is anything but…

Jenny Slate in "Obvious Child"

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child

This is how sad my face looked because I couldn’t attend either SFIFF screening of “Obvious Child”!  It’s actually Jenny Slate in Obvious Child, and I was fortunate enough to get to see the film at the Women + Film Voices Film Festival in Denver a few months ago; And then it was at the Vail Film Festival and now at San Francisco International Film Festival!  Gillian Robespierre couldn’t be present at any of the screenings, but at the Denver festival, they did Skype her in!  She talked about how perfect Jenny Slate was for the role and how hard it is to be a filmmaker in New York City now that even the seedier parts of the city were too expensive for artists to afford rent!

Gillian Robespierre 20140323_204253The less you know about the film, the better I think you’ll enjoy it.  Jenny Slate is known for her character on the comedy Parks and Recreation and her stand-up routines in the film are awkward and down-right raunchy.  In contrast, her moments of pathos are endearing and the emotions she portrays feel very real.  This a modern romance but there isn’t a trite Hollywood scene of boy-saves-girl.  Instead, it’s girl-has-bad-break-up, stalks-ex, has-ill-conceived-1st-date-sex, and then must face the consequences.  This is messy.  Just like life.

The soundtrack is great.  The cast is wonderful.  And Gillian Robespierre is a fresh new voice!  She’s writing something right now and I hope that she continues to find an audience for this film on the festival circuit and beyond.  We need her vision and her braveness!

Rating: 4 1/2 glasses of wine out of 5

Bechdel Rating: Passes


“Skeleton Twins”: But Stefon…where are the dwarves?


In the wonderful Skeleton Twins, Bill Hader plays a very different character from his hilarious Saturday Night Live character, Stefon, the NYC event correspondent that always had Seth Meyers cracking up on Weekend Update.

Bill Hader as Stefon on SNL

Yet, this was probably a wonderful training ground for the role he so completely embodies in Craig Johnson’s film.  The chemistry he has with his fellow SNL alumni, Kristen Wiig, makes their portrayal of twins ring true right from the start.  That this relationship is so tender and haunted, makes the moments of comedy between the two all the more poignant.  Kristen Wiig is an absolute revelation in her role as a woman so wounded by her past that she sabotages all that is good in her life.  She wears no make-up and her face reveals the pain and terror her character feels.  Her performance is raw and emotional.

Shot beautifully in fall colors in small town New York, the dress-up of Halloween and the gift of skeletons echo the hidden shame of suicide and the long shadow that their father’s death has cast.  The story unfolds in moments of discovery and tragedy with flashbacks to the closeness that they felt as children  As the audience waits in anticipation for the comedic bits that are so much fun with such skilled performers, we are drawn into the emotional spiderweb of these brittle, broken adults.  Dancing in the shadows of these small town lives, the lies and intrigue are finally revealed.

This is Craig Johnson’s second feature (True Adolescents) and he directed it from a script he co-wrote with Mark Heyman.  Mark Duplass starred in his first film and ex-produced this one with his brother, Jay Duplass. The soundtrack by Nathan Larson is perfect and the cinematography (Reed Morano) captured the chill and thrill of Halloween.  There were great turns by Luke Wilson as the loving husband and Ty Burrell is amazing as the high school teacher living a closeted life.

Rod Armstrong interviews Craig Johnson

Rod Armstrong interviews Craig Johnson

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader were at the screening of Skeleton Twins at the San Francisco International Film Festival with the Craig Johnson.  No tricks–it was a treat!

Rating: 4 Halloween cocktails out of 5

Bechdel Rating: Passes


Celebrities at Film Festivals; how important are they?


Yes, I had tickets to see the Peter J Owens tribute of Jeremy Irons last night at the SFIFF. Yes, I hear he was charming and a great storyteller. No, I didn’t go.
Why? Because I was having such a fun time meeting new friends that I couldn’t break away!
How important to Film Festivals are celebrity guests? I’ve attended five film festivals in the last eight months. None of them featured many “celebrities”; even the 10th Boulder International FF! There was a tribute to Shirley MacLaine and some great filmmakers but no guests for the Opening or Closing Night Films.
What I love about the San Francisco International Film Festival, beyond the great programming, fabulous staff and the joy of working with my friends…is that the celebrities are the filmmakers!  There are “big names” (particularly for the Gala!) but the festival is packed with filmmakers, film festival folks and emerging stars! It’s incredible to see Tracy Chapman waiting in the Rush Line. There’s Barry Jenkins sitting in the front row for a screening.   Hey, there goes Parker Posey…
So if a local film writer is concerned with the lack of STARS, perhaps she needs to rethink her definition of that term.