The winner of ’08 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury prize in the drama category, decided last night, is Courtney Hunt‘s Frozen River — one of many Sundance ’08 films I didn’t get to see. Presumably it will open theatrically down the road. It’s been described as “a somber and suspenseful film about two desperate women who smuggle illegals into the United States,” etc.

Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck in The Wackness

Not to throw water on a proud moment, but it is axiomatic that the winners of the Sundance Grand Jury prize don’t “matter.” The jurors always seem to vote for the values of their effete and ingrown independent-film culture (and are motivated by this and that political factor within this sphere). Getting a thumbs-up from this cut-off crew always seems to bestow a stamp that says “worthy but marginal.”
Conversely, the winner of the Sundance Audience Award usually does suggest that it may be an exceptional or even transcendent film with a potential of reaching into the culture, which is why I’m taken aback that Jonathan Levine‘s The Wackness won this award last night.
I’m not saying that this well-made under-30 relationship film is dimissable, but it just doesn’t have that schwing. At best it’s an in-and-outer — mostly out. Set in ’94, The Wackness is an urban buddy saga (older therapist, teenaged pot dealer) with a funereal visual palette (i.e., covered in dark, gray-green murk) and a vaguely off-putting, constantly medicating male lead (Josh Peck) with a haircut that I came to really and truly hate by the 30-minute mark.
The only unmitigated plus about this film is Ben Kingsley‘s nicely skewed performance as the pot-smoking therapist. But, as I wrote during Sundance, “when you add in Peck’s weirdnesses and all those cigarettes and doobies that everyone keeps sucking into their lungs and before you know it you’re thinking about hitting a health club just to flush the experience out of your system.”
Here are the other Sundance ’08 winners.