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Sundance: Variety Critics Talk Mid-Fest Favorites

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OWEN GLEIBERMAN: I’m tempted to say, Peter, that this has been a fairly quiet Sundance so far. It’s not like there hasn’t been some noise, especially given that one title, “The Big Sick,” inspired enough love to be bought for $12 million — more than any Sundance film in history (with the exception of last year’s “The Birth of a Nation”). But maybe I’m talking about the fact that when I watch these movies now, I have a more daunting sense than I used to of how tough it will be for any of them, when they finally get released, to find a place in the newly fragmented, 1,000-entertainment-choices-a-day marketplace. Some of them will, of course, but the climb is getting steeper.

Yet enough gloom and doom! Let’s talk about “The Big Sick,” a romantic comedy that winds up being a true journey. I saw it almost as an indie “Jerry Maguire,” the story of a dude — in this case, a Pakistani-American standup comic played by the witty Kumail Nanjiani (who co-wrote the script and based it on his own life) — who falls in love (with the amazing Zoe Kazan), but then has to figure out what the stakes of love really are. It’s funny, tender, and beautifully acted, and you don’t know where it’s going. All of which is to say that Michael Showalter, who directed it, has ripened into a major talent.

PETER DEBRUGE: I’ve witnessed four standing ovations so far at this year’s Sundance, which ain’t bad, considering how hit-and-miss any festival can be. “The Big Sick” was one, of course, and is probably the most commercial film I’ve seen here — though I remain skeptical whether Amazon can make back that steep price they paid for it. It helps that Judd Apatow was involved as a producer, though it shares the same problem that most of his movies do, running a good half hour longer than needed. As a longtime fan of Nanjiani’s, I /did/ know where the story was going (it’s based on the near-death experience that cemented his relationship) and wish they’d spent a bit less time on his standup and one-man show — especially since the real-life material is so funny.

“Mudbound” and “Patti Cake$” also brought down the house, though my favorite so far has been “Call Me by Your Name,” the latest from “I Am Love” director Luca Guadagnino. The movie transports audiences to Northern Italy, where a 17-year-old remembers the intense summer fling that set the bizarre for every subsequent love in his life. The movie so vividly captures the time and place, I felt as if I was experiencing it first-hand, and by the end, never wanted

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