J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sundance ’13: Magic Magic


And now Sebastián Silva presents the second part of Michael Cera’s Chilean vacation.  This was the film they intended to make all along, but when the financing temporarily bogged down, they whipped up Crystal Fairy to pass the time.  While Silva’s Magic Magic is a darker, more intriguing work, it was probably too art-house for genre patrons when it screened as part of the Park City at Midnight section of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Alicia has come to Chile so she can visit her cousin Sarah, who is just so gosh-darned thrilled to have her there.  Alicia seems a bit high maintenance, which is not what Sarah needs right now.  Having some private business to tend to, Sarah pushes Alicia off on her boyfriend Agustín and some friends leaving on a coastal vacation.  Something about Alicia brings out the absolute worst in the sexually confused expat Brink, but the shy and clumsy (perhaps deliberately so) Alicia gets on everyone’s last nerve.  It is mutual.  As Agustín’s friends mock and complain about Alicia behind her back, her mental state begins (or continues) to deteriorate.

Minor spoiler alert: By far the biggest disappointment of MM is the lack of a violent death for Cera’s Brink.  Considering how unpleasant he is (just as annoying as his character in Crystal Fairy, if not more so), he really has it coming.  In fact, Silva disregards most of the principles of EC Comics, avoiding genre scares in favor of slow brooding atmosphere.  Something is definitely off in MM, but Silva lets it all emerge slowly.

In a weird way, MM closely parallels Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, right down to its ambiguous third act.  However, the climatic event makes logical sense in the Romanian film, whereas in MM it rather comes out of left field.

As Brink, Cera is bilingually irritating, which is sort of impressive, really.  As Alicia, Juno Temple is a perfect portrait of arrested development (if you will) and emotional neediness.  She is just all kinds of trouble.  She also takes the Sundance honors over Cera and Silva, having appeared in three films at this year’s festival (also including Lovelace and Afternoon Delight).  To her credit, Emily Browning brings some presence to the underdeveloped role of Sarah, whereas the Chilean characters are even more undistinguished, seemingly on hand just to rub Alicia the wrong way.

Silva masterfully creates a mood of profound unease, but it never really pays off.  Magic Magic is the sort of film that is more interesting to look back on than to watch in the moment.  Given the big name talent involved, it is a cinch to play fairly far and wide after its premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

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