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Buzzed-about drama “The New Year” finds a new star in its outstanding lead actress.

Buzzed-about drama “The New Year” finds a new star in its outstanding lead actress. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

“The New Year” is not a film that benefits from high expectations, an unfortunate situation Brett Haley’s delicate debut finds itself in, having been hailed as the buzziest film at this year’s L.A. Film Festival. Shot for $8,000 in only 12 days, it’s a modest character study that looks every bit its budget, but has one of the few things money can’t buy — a genuine starmaking turn from Trieste Kelly Dunn.

Festivalgoers might already be familiar with Dunn, thanks to a supporting turn in Aaron Katz’s lo-fi mystery “Cold Weather,” playing Bacall to Cris Lakenau’s slacker Bogart (minus the sexual tension — they’re siblings) and blasting her way through second-banana status on snark and stoicism.

In “The New Year,” she’s presented a similar opportunity to plunge into the confusion and restlessness of a post-collegiate funk as Sunny, the diligent daughter of a cancer-stricken college professor. She returns home to tend to her father and sprays the insides of bowling shoes at the local alley to support herself. The alley itself is a dying reminder of her high school glory days, the ball polisher screaming “Make It Happen” in fluorescent red and orange lights, even though “it” obviously won’t any time soon.

06252010_TheNewYear2.jpgDunn can roll her eyes and unsheathe a sharp one-liner with the best of them, but her most impressive feat with Sunny is expressing frustration while never showing defeat. She’s strong, to be sure, jousting daily with her father over things as banal as his TV habits and demonstrating an uncanny knack for throwing strikes when she finally gives into trying bowling for the first time.

Yet in her more quiet moments, there’s searching behind her eyes and a certain smokiness in her voice that suggest even as she’s experiencing a quarterlife crisis, the worst is already behind her.

It’s this same strength that dogs “The New Year” — Sunny’s central dilemma is choosing between two guys who can hardly keep up with her. That they seem to know it is a credit to co-writer/director Haley, but as in so many small-town-set tales, Sunny is forced to pick between the guy who represents staying around and the guy who represents heading somewhere new.

In this case, the divide’s embodied by Jane Austen-reading Tae Kwon Do instructor (and local boy) Neal (Kevin Wheatley) and Isaac (Ryan Hunter), a friend from high school whose new life in New York intrigues her to the point of laughing extra hard at his largely unfunny routine as a stand-up comedian.

06252010_TheNewYear3.jpgAs choices, both are well-balanced, amiable fellows, not like the ne’er do well husband of Sunny’s chatty best friend (Linda Lee McBride) who is used as the film’s yardstick (and comic relief). However, neither can match Sunny for dimension or depth, nor can the actors playing them quite match Dunn.

Perhaps such is the curse of building a film around an actress who runs with her performance as stridently as Dunn does. Haley’s smart enough to step back and let her do her thing. Moments that could be treacly between Sunny and her ailing father are unusually touching, and although Haley’s attempts at humor are sometimes crude, he generally goes for subtlety without ever being solemn, which separates “The New Year” from much of its low-budget brethren.

Still, the film belongs to Dunn, who tellingly interrupted her director during the Q & A of “The New Year”‘s third screening at the L.A. Film Fest and sweetly apologized, “Sorry, did I steal your spotlight?”

She did, and I suspect she’s not letting go any time soon.

“The New Year” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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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

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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.

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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

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