Fantastic Fest Day 1: Thoroughbreds and Thelma!

It’s a warm 94° Fahrenheit here in south Austin, Texas, but you wouldn’t know it inside the cool Alamo Drafthouse theater where myself and a few thousand people will be spending the next seven days. The festivities are just beginning, but there’s already a palpable sense wonder and excitement buzzing in the air. There’s also a strong feeling of unity among festival goers which, given the past few weeks of controversy, is very nice to see.

It’s apropos that both of my films today have strong female leads. I’m going to try and come up with a theme for each day, so consider me pleasantly surprised when I realized today’s two films featured atypical, strong, and interesting female characters at their center. I know, I wish this wasn’t such a rare occurrence — but it is. And I’m excited to report that both films were great.

Thoroughbreds was the first film I saw at the fest, and gee-wiz was it a fun one. Written and directed by Cory Finley, Thoroughbreds tells the story of two estranged friends with slight behavioral issues. The girls — played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke — reconnect the summer before their senior year and discover they may have more in common than they remember. This dark comedy had more laugh-out-loud moments than I expected. The performances, from our two female leads to the smaller players like Paul Sparks and the late, great Anton Yelchin, were all stellar; with Cooke and Taylor-Joy really standing out as these girls straddling that line between childhood and adulthood with a little problem in the empathy department.

The film, as stated by Finley during the post-movie QnA, was originally written as a play. And while it still manages to retain the quippy, action packed dialogue usually found in play adaptations, the cinematography and the gorgeous locations keep the film from feeling small. Overall I’d say this was a pretty fantastic first film of the fest, but by the time it was over, I was ready to experience Joachim Trier’s latest.

I’m sure many of this sites readers know about — or have already seen — Thelma. But many of us here in the States haven’t been so lucky. Captivating almost to the point of hypnoses, Thelma may be Trier’s most exciting work yet. I know I need to watch this at least fifteen more times to even sort of grasp everything going on. There’s so much depth to the performances alone, with Eili Harboe pulling off a performance that will astonish all and bore none. How she is able to feel both vulnerable and dangerous is beyond me, but you will not be able to take your eyes off of her. Trier is one of the few directors working today who asks his audience to work a little. There is more to Thelma than what lies on the surface, and Trier gives you all the tools you need to find it. All I can ask is that those who haven’t seen the film, check it out as soon as you can. I promise you will not be disappointed.

So that’s day one of Fantastic Fest down! Check back for more coverage of the fest, and if there’s any movie you want us to check out while we’re here let us know!

Javier Gonzalez

Freelance writer and winner of multiple awards including "Most Improved Player 1999" and "Best Defensive Player 2001"

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