Slamdance: Grieving does funny things to a person in sparkling “Suck It Up”

suckitup

I’m not attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, but I was graciously sent screeners for a couple of films premiering at both the Sundance Film Festival and its young upstart, Slamdance. I’ll post reviews of those films here on my blog in concurrence with their premieres in Park City. 

I had two moments of sudden realization while watching director Jordan Canning’s comedy-drama “Suck It Up” that just knocked me flat. The film premiered Monday night at Slamdance in Park City, Utah.

The first moment came about halfway through the film, when the characters sneak into a bowling alley to get high and bowl a few frames. But it was the five-pin bowling I remembered from when I was a kid growing up in Canada, when we would spend summers in Invermere, British Columbia.

Abruptly, I realized that not only was “Suck It Up” shot in Canada, but it was shot in picturesque Invermere itself. My kids and I had just been in a candy shop featured in the film a couple of summers ago. (We didn’t smoke pot in the bowling alley, though.) It gave me such a strange jolt, that this indie film I had more or less at random gotten the chance to watch and write about had such a powerful personal connection for me.

The film has a powerful pull as well, one that sneaks up and charms you with its clever dialogue and winning performances before pulling you into deeper emotional waters. Faye (Erin Carter) and Ronnie (Grace Glowicki) are both grieving the sudden death from cancer of Garrett — Ronnie’s boyfriend, Faye’s first love. Ronnie is a wild child who has thrown herself into booze and casual sex, while the more responsible Faye, who had broken up with Garrett before he got sick, seems emotionally stunted, unsure even how to feel.

Faye offers to take Ronnie on a road trip up to the family cottage in Invermere to chill out — okay, she doesn’t “offer” so much as “load Ronnie into the car while she’s passed out.” Once in Invermere, the two women get drunk with townies, lay out by the lake, and have an ill-advised wrestling match in an inflatable raft filled with chocolate sauce. And they circle closer and closer to talking about Garrett.

Canning and screenwriter Julia Hoff skilfully navigate that tension between laugh-out-loud comic scenes and the emotional pain that Ronnie and Faye have buried, and need to dig up. Both actresses are enormously appealing — Carter gives Faye a jittery energy beneath her crafts-loving good girl exterior, while Glowicki makes Ronnie a glorious train wreck, but surprisingly empathetic once she sobers up. There’s a toughness and a sharpness to their chemistry together which is very satisfying.

It’s welcome to see such a knockout female-driven film, with women in charge both in front of and behind the camera, in an indie film scene that’s still heavy on bros. But the themes in “Suck It Up” — friendship, grieving, figuring out how to move on — are universal.

Which brings me to the second jolt of recognition that knocked me flat. The film ends with two songs on the soundtrack, and I knew instantly who it was — Madison singer-songwriter Alicia Lemke, who performed as Alice and the Glass Lake. Lemke died in 2015 of leukemia at the age of 27 — I don’t know if the filmmakers even knew that when they chose her songs for the film, but it resonates powerfully with the themes of the film.

Like Lemke’s songs, “Suck It Up” takes tragedy that seems insurmountable and builds something joyful out of it.

If you’re in Park City, you can still see “Suck It Up” at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Details are here. The film doesn’t have a distributor yet so it’s unclear where it will surface yet, but fingers crossed.

 

 

 

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