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DID YOU READ

“Stephanie Daley,” “Everything’s Gone Green”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Amber Tamblyn in “Stephanie Daley” Regent Releasing, 2007]

“Stephanie Daley”

As I watched “Stephanie Daley,” I was overwhelmed with the notion that I was watching a “Sundance movie.” I’m not sure if such a concept has been fully delineated yet within the critical community; if not, it may be time. The closing credits indicate that writer/director Hilary Brougher workshopped her film at the Sundance Institute, and the finished product won a screenwriting award at the 2006 festival, which sort of feels like someone giving themselves a pat on the back, but never mind. From a purely technical standpoint, this is a “Sundance movie,” but even before I knew that concretely, I could feel it just by watching it. So what is a “Sundance movie?”

Author and scholar Thomas Schatz wrote in his book “Hollywood Genres” that as we watch more and more similar movies, “we develop expectations which, as they are continually reinforced, tend to harden into ‘rules.'” A few pages later he adds, “A genre, then, represents a range of expression for filmmakers and a range of experience for viewers.” And as I watched “Stephanie Daley,” I could feel those rules hardening around me.

If there is such a thing as a “Sundance movie,” then, and “Stephanie Daley” is such a picture, these would be the elements that apply. The basic plot is intensely melodramatic, but it is not played for melodrama: it is played for character study. The screenplay is very serious and almost totally free of any humor. The cinematography, by David Rush Morrison, is absolutely gorgeous, but it is also absolutely minimal, with a limited number of colors in the palette and a heavy emphasis on natural, realistic lighting. One could argue that the range of expression, both emotionally and visually, is somewhat narrow.

“Stephanie Daley”‘s raw narrative materials could quite easily make a very traditional Hollywood film. Its title character (Amber Tamblyn) is first seen leaving bloody footprints as she stumbles through the snow; we soon learn her condition stems from the fact that she’s just delivered a baby in a public bathroom stall. Months later, a pregnant forensic psychiatrist named Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton) is assigned Stephanie’s case and tasked to uncover whether she murdered her newborn, as prosecutors claim, or whether the baby was, as the accused claims, stillborn. As a construction, it’s just about perfect and it’s easy to conceive of where a major studio would have taken the material, possibly as some kind of psychological thriller that would have turned Lydie into an investigator uncovering her subject’s dark secrets (think “Fargo” with more hot button-y birth rights issues).

Brougher takes an entirely different tack. Her “Stephanie Daley” is a mystery story that’s not really about its mystery — it’s rather a presentation of an air of suburban malaise and a certain kind of moral relativism (traits that also struck me as particularly “Sundance movie”-like). I will not say what Lydie learns about Stephanie or herself, but I will observe that whatever that might be is less important than what both characters ultimately come to see about themselves. Their own truths are more important than ours.

The range of experience for the viewer depends largely on that viewer’s own knowledge and expectations of Schatz’s rules. I certainly can’t fault the filmmaking craft involved. “Stephanie Daley” is powerfully acted — Tamblyn was justly nominated for a Spirit Award for her performance — and shot with a sort of cool, gloomy beauty. Me? I enjoy a good soapy melodrama now and then, and would have preferred a slightly more passionate take on the material. Ironically, such a movie would probably feel fresher now than Brougher’s, which was born of a place designed as an alternative to the mainstream that has now become a sort of mainstream all its own (if we called it “alternative” filmmaking instead of “independent,” a comparison to rock music in the 1990s would be particularly apt).

There was a certain disconnect between what I wanted the movie to be and what it actually is, but that doesn’t mean others won’t feel different (the rest of the crowd at the screening I attended seemed a good deal more enthralled than me). And anyway, criticizing what a movie isn’t is kind of dirty pool. No doubt Brougher made exactly the movie she wanted. It is a “Sundance movie.”

“Everything’s Gone Green”

When I spoke with author Douglas Coupland about “Everything’s Gone Green,” his first work as a screenwriter, at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, he interrupted our interview and asked me how old I was. When I responded “26,” he grinned and told me, in all seriousness, that I was headed for “The worst year of my life.” Though I’ve (so far) found this not to be the case personally, Coupland clearly believes this statement to be true, because I just watched “Everything’s Gone Green” and there it is again. After he’s lost his job, his girlfriend, a potential fortune in lottery winnings, all in one day, Ryan (Paulo Costanzo), who is only a couple years my senior, is told by a buddy, “Your twenties suck, the worst period of your life. You’re lonely. You feel like your head’s being blowtorched from the inside. And you don’t even know what it is because we were never even taught the words to describe it. So you feel like an idiot and a loser.”

Listening to “Everything’s Gone Green”‘s dialogue, and judging from my brief but very amusing interview with Coupland himself, it appears that a lot of the characters are speaking for the author. All of the major characters go off on rants about their surroundings and their inherent flaws and idiosyncrasies, though they are almost entirely of a very laid back “D’ja ever notice?” variety. As such, the film, directed by Paul Fox, doesn’t adhere to the popular show-don’t-tell rule of filmmaking, but a lot of these mini -lectures about bacon-wrapped scallops or summer office cruises are very funny, at least in a very laid back “D’ja ever notice?” way.

After he loses his job and most of his financial and sexual prospects, Ryan winds up working for the lottery itself, where his job is to interview winners for the free circular the company has to provide to prove that the whole operation isn’t just one big Ponzi scheme. And so the relatively broke Ryan gets to document financial success of a kind with which he will almost certainly never find himself up close and personal. It should go without saying that the movie will ultimately prove (over and over again) that the happiness brought on by massive influxes of undeserved cash is hollow and very short-lived.

Ryan’s love interest is an intriguing woman named Ming (Steph Song) who works as a set decorator on the many American film productions that roll through their hometown of Vancouver. Her job ultimately comes down to disguising British Columbia so that it looks like Anytown, U.S.A., which gives Coupland the opportunity to poke fun at American movies as well as to observe how after a while they all become completely interchangeable. And, to an extent, “Everything’s Gone Green” is sort of an anti-movie. There is a plot, but it is not pushed forward with any sort of muscular intensity, and any deterrents that stand in our heroes’ paths are deflated for big laughs before they can actually do them any harm.

The artwork on the wall of Ryan’s apartment in the beginning of the movie — the one he gets kicked out of when his girlfriend dumps him — reads “small, manageable dreams,” an idea echoed by a road sign that Ryan drives past in the closing shots that says “choose not to lose.” Ryan doesn’t really grow, then, he finds his earlier beliefs tested and then affirmed. He should aim low, why the hell not? Coupland certainly obeyed his own dictum here: “Everything’s Gone Green” is far from revolutionary, but it is light and fun and won’t tax you too much in exchange for ninety entertaining minutes. Ryan comes out the other side of the worst year of his life in pretty good shape. I hope for my sake I do the same.

“Stephanie Daley” opens in New York on April 20th (official site); “Everything’s Gone Green” is currently playing in New York opening wider on April 20th (official site).

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

IFC_Portlandia-S8_pick-a-lane_subaru-blog

Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…