Sundance Day 2: James Franco In ‘True Story,’ Adam Scott In ’The Overnight,’ & ‘Stockholm, Pennsylvania’

Last year at this time, Sundance was still on its Whiplash high from night one and the buzz was all about the upcoming Richard Linklater movie, Boyhood. Both of those movies are now nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. This year … it’s a little different. There was good buzz coming out of the horror movie The Witch (which I unfortunately didn’t see) and A24 has already bought the rights to the David Foster Wallace movie, The End of the Tour (which I’ll see on Saturday morning). But there’s still no IT movie to be crowned. (To be fair, as I type, the festival is only 27 hours old.)

Anyway, as opposed to Thursday, on Friday I actually saw movies I actually liked — one starring James Franco and Jonah Hill and another starring Jason Schwartzman and Adam Scott. And then there was one other movie that I didn’t like as much, but these things happen. Here’s your day two roundup:

The Overnight

I wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of penises that would be on display during The Overnight, courtesy of both Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman. (As Scott made sure to mention in the post-film Q&A, they were both wearing prosthetics.)

The Overnight is about a couple, Alex and Emily (Scott and Taylor Schilling), who have just moved to L.A. with their young son and are on the lookout for new friends. At a birthday party their son was invited to, they meet another couple, Kurt and Charlotte (Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche), who invite Alex and Emily over to their house that night. Things go well! So well, in fact, that Kurt (who, in his spare time, paints portraits of people’s assholes) suggests they let Alex and Emily’s son sleep upstairs so that the party can continue. From this point on, there are a lot of prosthetic penises in this movie.

The Overnight came at just the right time for this festival, because I had already sat through three movies in a row that I didn’t particularly love (c’mon, where’s this year’s Whiplash!) and I was starting to wonder why I flew all the way out here. The Overnight basically develops into a four-way orgy, even though Alex and Emily don’t quite understand what’s happening – with one of the best comedic payoffs I’ve seen in the last couple of years. Anyway, this was just a long-winded way of saying “The Overnight is a funny movie.”

True Story

It’s sometimes hard to remember that James Franco can actually act when he’s trying. This isn’t to insinuate that Franco’s phoning it in with his performances in movies like This is the End or The Interview, but that’s just James Franco trying to be a weirdo. And in those movies, I will concede he’s trying really hard to be a weirdo. But, in True Story, Franco is here to act and it’s almost startling because I had forgotten what this was like. (To be fair, Franco has acted in some passion projects like Palo Alto, but these were seen by very few people.)

Based on a true story (as the title of the movie suggests) Franco plays Christian Longo, a man accused of murdering his wife and three children. He’s arrested in Mexico, where he was going by the alias of “Michael Finkel.” The real Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is a New York Times Magazine reporter who had just been fired for some transgressions he made on a big cover story. (Basically, Finkel took the stories of five subjects and made them into one person.)

Intrigued why Longo would use his name, Finkel decides to visit Longo in prison, where a mental cat and mouse game is played between the two men, as Finkel agrees to write a book on Longo while, at the same time, trying to get to the bottom of what really happened the night Longo’s family died.

Directed by first time director Rupert Goold, True Story is basically a movie about a series of lies from both men that eventually uncovers the truth. Neither Finkel nor Longo come off as very likable people, but the interactions between Franco and Hill on screen are fascinating and eerie.

I’m even more curious about these interactions considering how close Franco and Hill are in real life; you’d think it would be hard to concentrate amongst all of the shenanigans, but, they pulled it off.

Stockholm, Pennsylvania

I almost feel bad for not liking Stockholm, Pennsylvania because it’s obvious how much effort is here to try to make something shocking and disturbing. Instead, it’s just comes across as kind of silly.

At the age of four and a half, Leanne (Saoirse Ronan) was abducted from her parents, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and Glen (David Warshofsky). The film opens with Leanne (now named Leia, which is barely addressed other than Leia claims she was named after a princess) returned to her parents after 17 years. The first half of the movie is kind of fascinating, as Leia tries to adapt to parents who are strangers and a world she didn’t even know existed — her captor, Ben (Jason Isaacs), had told her that pretty much the whole world had been destroyed and the only safe place was the basement she lived in. Understandably, Leia misses Ben, the only “parent” she has ever known. Understandably, Marcy and Glen are upset by this, because they finally get their daughter back and she wants very little to do with them.

Then – hoo boy – does this movie fly off the rails. I won’t get into details because it’s spoiler territory, but characters start doing things that no one would (A) do or (B) have any chance of getting away with. It’s absolutely preposterous. And once it became preposterous, I stopped caring, which made the movie dull. (One example of preposterousness: Leia is presented as not knowing how to do much of anything, but this seems to come and go. She figures out how to take a bus to a prison to visit Ben – which, in itself, is ridiculous – but doesn’t know how to work a toaster.)

Again, I feel bad for not liking this movie because there’s a lot of heart behind what’s happening, but it just becomes too unbelievable to keep caring.

Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.