Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sundance Film Review // Valentine Road

It's that time of year again! Time for Ryan Gosling and James Franco sightings, for getting lost in Park City trying to find parking, for waiting in lines, and for otherwise freezing in the subzero temperatures of the Wasatch Back. That's right folks, it's time for the Sundance Film Festival: the two weekends a year that Utah has more to offer the world than skiing and the oddities of Mormon culture.

I'm hoping to see a few films over the next couple of weeks (Have you seen the lineup? How is anyone supposed to choose only one?!), and I actually got to see my first last night, at a special exclusive premiere night! (I know, I know, lifestyles of the rich and the famous.) I know it can be hard to choose from the 200 films Sundance offers every year, especially when all you've got to go off is the paragraph in the Film Festival Guide. So I thought it'd be fun to do a couple of reviews of the ones I see. To kick it off, probably the last film I would have chosen to go to but one that I was incredibly moved by, Valentine Road.

What the film is technically about:
Valentine Road is about the school shooting of 8th-grader Larry King by his fellow classmate, Brandon McInerney. Valentine Road follows the friends, family, teachers, and lawyers of the two 8th-graders through the aftermath of the event.

What the film is really about:
Justice. Mercy. Tolerance. Intolerance. The penal system. The education system. Nature and nurture. Crippling regret. Slow-to-come healing. Bravery. Forgiveness.

What I have to say about it:
You know a film is good when its hour and a half length elicits an hour and a half discussion afterwards. We talked the whole way home about right and wrong, justice and mercy, parenting and schooling, objectivity and manipulation in film-making, context and characterization as a key to swaying opinions, and most of all penitence and real change.

This film made me ask questions I haven't asked before. The story unfolded piece by piece, until this seemingly simple incident between two 8th-graders becomes rich with the many heartbreaking and inspiring side-stories of the people who knew them. With incredible finesse and captivation, Valentine Road shows the complexity of any moral decision. It shows how similar we all are, and how much each of us need love love love.

Things you should know:
1) director: Marta Cunningham
2) run time: 89 minutes
3) about the 80s-looking thumbnail image: don't be deceived into thinking the filming will be lackluster. It is refreshing and engaging and not for one moment did I disconnect from what was going on onscreen.
4) content: there is some language (a few f-words) and a couple of pictures of the blood at the crime scene. The content itself is already heavy (as Ira Glass would say, the film does acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (Larry identified as transgender), drugs, domestic violence, and hate crimes), but all is handled tactfully and gracefully.
5) and yes, there are funny moments in Valentine Road too. This one runs the gamut of emotion.

Do I recommend it? 
Yes. Highly. Go with someone who has things to say about the world, someone who is naturally curious and who likes discussing ideas, and then after the film, go to a restaurant in Park City or find a ski lodge at Sundance to sit in or drive for a few hours so you have the chance to process all the incredible things that Marta Cunningham makes happen here.

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