Friday, January 26, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Tyrel

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Sebastian Silva
U.S. Dramatic Competition

The release of “Get Out” last year tackled how young African-Americans often feel like they’re completely on the outside of a white-dominated society, taking it to the extreme with a horror movie plot that many saw as representative of the way in which African-Americans in the United States are brainwashed or erased. On the heels of that film comes “Tyrel,” a more straightforward, realistic interpretation of how one African-American man feels when he’s surrounded by white people who just can’t relate to his life experience and don’t seem to care to try.

Tyler (Jason Mitchell) heads to a party with his friend Johnny (Christopher Abbott) in the Catskills. He doesn’t know anyone else there, including the wild birthday boy Pete (Caleb Landry Jones) and another very eccentric guest, Alan (Michael Cera). The opening activities involve a game in which Tyler is pressured to do impressions of famous African-American celebrities and things quickly devolve into drunken antics which make Tyler feel like a true outsider. When Tyler takes a stand against some of what he’s seeing go on around him, the response he gets from these new peers is one of complete ignorance of how out of place he truly feels.

This is not a horror movie, and there’s nothing supernatural about it. Any questionable behavior comes either from a lack of awareness or from the strong influence of alcohol, which is consumed in excess by almost everyone at this weekend getaway. It’s almost worse to go unnoticed than it is to be disliked, and Tyler only becomes relevant to the group when he demonstrates that he can’t handle the tremendous amount of alcohol that he has had, and his white companions begin to become fearful of his behavior. The film gets its title from one well-meaning party attendee who mishears and thinks that his name must be more exotic and stereotypical than Tyler.

Mitchell was the standout actor not getting as much credit as Mary J. Blige is for “Mudbound,” and it’s good to see him transition effortlessly from period piece to contemporary drama. Abbott is dependable as usual, and both Jones and Cera are very well-cast. This is a film that feels like it might belong more in the Sundance NEXT section, where director Sebastian Silva’s previous feature, “Nasty Baby,” premiered in 2015. This is a far more even exploration of what it’s like to not fit in without anyone noticing, an interesting meditation that makes for a decently involving film.


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