Watching a movie at Sundance is like going on a blind date.
I never realize how much I rely on trailers to give me a sense of what a movie is going to be like until Sundance rolls around. Yes, they lie or say too much half the time, but they at least give me some idea of what the experience of watching the movie will be like going in. They're the cinematic version of flirting in line at the coffee shop, or messages exchanged on a dating site.
At Sundance, though, there are no trailers. All you get is a description between one and two paragraphs long, a cast list, and a photo or two. Sometimes the description will have keywords that will give you some sense of the movie's tone ("elegant," "brutal,"), but that only lets you classify the movie into one of a very broad set of categories. "American Ultra" and "Shaun the Sheep Movie" are both considered comedies, for example, but the experience of watching them is very, very different.
Essentially, it's the cinematic equivalent of a friend or parent giving you a detailed description of someone they're "sure you'll like."
Occasionally, though, blind dates turn out to be unexpectedly delightful surprises. I would normally never go see a movie that would leave me sobbing, but the hilarious, heartbreaking "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl" is one of my favorite memories of last year's festival. Tom Hardy's "Locke," from the year before, is a quiet, intimate little drama mostly featuring one man on a long, life-changing drive. I would have probably ignored it in on the big screen, but it rocked me when I saw it the first time. It showed me the power independent movies can really have, and the memory of it lingers with me even now. I cherish the memory of both movies.
Of course, some blind dates do turn out to be complete disasters. "Last Days In the Desert," which I saw at last year's Sundance Film Festival, still holds my personal record for the most boring movie I've ever seen in my life. The movie, where Ewan McGregor plays Jesus during the "40 days in the desert" sequence from the Bible, involved huge chunks of screen time in which McGregor literally does nothing but stare out at the desert. Occasionally, he'd say something that sounded like it got stolen from an inspirational calendar. Then it was back to the staring, to the point where I became halfway convinced it was some sort of stealth parody of independent film.
About five minutes in, I started checking my watch every two minutes hoping that somehow time would have sped up and I'd be free of the misery. Literally – my friend who was with me started timing me, because she considered it far more interesting than what was going on onscreen. If I hadn't been pinned into the middle of a very packed row – always sit on an end when you're not sure the movie's going to be any good – there's a very good chance I would have fled the room. As it was, I might have fallen asleep at one point.
(The movie was eventually purchased by Broad Green last September – the fact that it was picked up that late should tell you something – which means that all of you will get the magical experience of seeing it sometime this year.)
But despite the suffering I went through in the theater, I'm still glad I went. The story of the experience has gotten laughs from various people more than once in the past year, and even now the thought of how supremely, comically awful the whole thing was makes me smile. I'm enjoying it far more now than I did at the time, but if I hadn't gone I wouldn't have the memory of it to laugh over.
Sometimes, even bad blind dates are worth it.