Do we count ROBOT AND FRANK in the odd affairs department? Frank Langella plays a crotchety cat burglar whiling away his days in retirement in Putnam County, New York, until his son, played with textbook exasperation by James Marsden, brings him a robot voiced by Peter Sarsgaard. Is this Lars and the Real Girl with a geriatric gay undertone? Going its own way, the automaton — defying Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics — develops a taste for larceny and a warmth for Frank. Susan Sarandon has a turn as Frank's wife, and Liv Tyler plays the annoying daughter who — what else? — can't get her life together.
One daughter who does get her act together is Julie Delpy, whose 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK has her family from Paris descend on the blended ménage she shares with Chris Rock in Manhattan. Most modern New York family visits have a 72-hour limit, but Delpy's extended family includes her exhibitionistic sister, the sister's pothead boyfriend, and her father, played by Delpy's own actor-father, Albert Delpy. Outrageous and crazy, Delpy's family doesn't wait to start coming apart but gets right to it in customs, as her father — a great Gallic explosion of a man — is busted at JFK by a bulldog female inspector who has him pull sausages from his pants. Chaos ensues, wittily and hilariously, in a true comedy of manners and cultures that owes a nod or two to both Woody Allen and Jean Renoir.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD Mark Twain would have loved this film, set in an almost-mythical Louisiana bayou.
Perhaps the best temperature-taking film of all is director/co-writer (with Lucy Alibar) Benh Zeitlin's BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, screening in the US Dramatic Competition. Set on the southern, exposed side of a levee in an almost-mythical Louisiana bayou, this is classic storytelling with an incredible feel for its central characters — a six-year-old black girl (a revelatory Quvenzhané Wallis) and her crazy survivalist father (Dwight Henry) — as well as their community of forgotten swamp varmints, both black and white. If Mark Twain were alive, he'd love this film — the clear favorite of critics here. The jury named Beasts the top winner in the dramatic competition and gave Ben Richardson the prize for Best Cinematography.
The World Documentary jury gave its top prize to THE LAW IN THESE PARTS, by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz of Israel, for the most carefully argued documentary in memory about the legal code Israel applies to the occupied territories. From the get-go, Alexandrowicz shows how the code was drawn up well before the Six Day War in 1967 in anticipation of a potential occupation of territory that was thought to be temporary but instead has lasted 45 years.
In the much different milieu of BACHELORETTE, Kirsten Dunst (back from the end of the world in Melancholia), Lizzy Caplan, and Isla Fisher — color-coded as blonde, brunette, and redhead — play distaff wedding crashers who come dangerously close to wrecking the wedding of their former college roomie, hefty-sized Becky. Becky, played with a taste for punishment by Rebel Wilson, is a big target, and you can almost hear daytime TV call-in planning their fat-phobia tie-ins with the release of the film. The story starts with two of the gal-pals, high on cocaine, climbing into Becky's wedding dress and splitting its sides, if not ours. Director Leslye Headland bounded out on stage after the premiere Monday night and had the uncanny look and husky barroom voice of someone who made this film as a comedy instead of a doc because she wrote what she knew.