Comedies at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

The race for best little films that could of 2014 begins on the same day that the nominees are announced for the best films of all sizes from 2013.

Such is the circle of life for cinema.

So just as Academy Award nominations get handed out and congratulatory phone calls made in Hollywood, New York City and around the globe, so many more filmmakers are descending upon the ski town of Park City, Utah, for the start of Sundance and the annual gauntlet of independent and big-budget film festivals. For the next two weekends and the stretch of days and nights that connects them, filmmakers will be shopping their dream projects to the producers, studios and distributors who can make sure that you might eventually see their movie. Of course, by 2014, that doesn’t have to be in a cinema to make their film a success. VOD, Netflix and other at-home/mobile streaming options are growing more respectable compared to what only a few years ago would have been considered the shame of straight-to-video. Or a successful Sundance may mean invites to even more film festivals into the spring and summer, and then maybe a big-screen debut by fall.

Which comedies are vying for the attention of the cinematic gatekeepers at Sundance 2014?

Only about a dozen feature films if you typed “comedy” into the search bar on this year’s fest guide page. Hmmm. Descriptions below from the official online guide.

THEY CAME TOGETHER: Directed by David Wain. Written by Wain and Michael Showalter. Starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler.  With Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Max Greenfield, Christopher Meloni. “They Came Together relates the epic love story of Joel, a corporate executive for Candy Systems and Research, a mega candy store chain, and Molly, the owner of a small sweet shop called Upper Sweet Side. When Joel is tasked with shutting down Molly’s mom-and-pop operation, the unlikely lovers find themselves hurtled into a whirlwind romance. Fromquaint bookstores and coffee shops to neurotic family members and psychotic ex-lovers, Joel and Molly must face some harrowing obstacles on their path to true love.”

HITS: Written and directed by David Cross. Starring Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh, James Adomian, Jake Cherry, Derek Waters, Wyatt Cenac. “Hits is a comedy about a paranoid municipal worker named Dave, his The Voice–obsessed 19-year-old daughter, a wannabe teenage rapper who has an unrequited crush on the daughter, and their neighbors in a small, working-class town in upstate New York. Dave finds fame when videos of his rants at City Hall go viral, and hordes of appallingly well-meaning hipsters from Brooklyn descend on their town to make sure Dave’s rights aren’t trampled by “the man.””

THE SKELETON TWINS: Directed by Craig Johnson, written by Johnson and Mark Heyman. Starring Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason. “Living separate lives on opposite sides of the country, estranged siblings Maggie and Milo are at the end of their ropes. But after a moment of crisis reunites them, Milo goes to spend time with Maggie in the small New York town where they grew up. A dental hygienist, Maggie struggles with her unhappy marriage to the painfully good-natured Lance, while Milo tracks down Rich, the English teacher with whom he shares a checkered past. Adrift and wondering how they ended up so far from who they were supposed to be, the siblings try to patch things up.”

WISH I WAS HERE: Written, directed by and starring Zach Braff. With Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Joey King. Funded by Kickstarter. “Aidan Bloom is a pot-smoking actor whose last job, a dandruff commercial, was longer ago than he cares to admit. Pursuing his thespian dream has landed him and his wife in tough financial straits, so when his grumpy father can no longer pay for the kids to attend Jewish Yeshiva, Aidan opts for homeschooling. To the chagrin of his hyperdisciplined, religious daughter and the delight of his less-than-studious son, Aidan takes matters into his own imaginative hands, rather than sticking to the boring old traditional curriculum.”

NICK OFFERMAN: AMERICAN HAM: Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Written by and starring Nick Offerman. Live filming of Offerman’s one-man show, performed last year at New York City’s Town Hall.

OBVIOUS CHILD: Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre. Starring Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind. “Donna Stern is a 27-year-old Brooklyn comedian whose unapologetically lewd, warmhearted wit is pretty irresistible with audiences. When she gets heartlessly “dumped up with” by her two-timing boyfriend, Donna plunges into some light stalking and heavy moping. Hitting a serious low point, she performs a dreary set of break-up vengeance and Holocaust jokes and drunkenly falls into bed with a nice young professional named Max—not remotely her type. A few weeks later, condoms be damned, she’s pregnant. Now Donna, incapable of telling anything but the naked truth when she’s on stage, will resort to any means to avoid telling Max the score. As her date with Planned Parenthood draws near, she must confront her doubts and fears like never before.”

FRANK: Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Written by Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan. Starring Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy. “Frank is a comedy about a young wannabe musician, Jon, who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins a band of eccentric pop musicians led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank and his terrifying sidekick, Clara. Frank’s uniqueness lies in the fact that he makes music purely for the joy of creating…and because he wears a giant fake head. After a rocky start, Jon ingratiates himself with the band members, and they retreat to a cabin in the woods to record an album. As his influence waxes, creative tensions mount, and the band’s entire raison d’être is called into question.”

THE DOUBLE: Directed by Richard Ayoade. Written by Avi Korine. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Cathy Moriarty, James Fox. “Simon James is a ghost. Friends, family, and coworkers meet his every action with completeindifference. He grimly goes through the motions, hoping for recognition that never comes. All of this changes when James Simon arrives. Physically, James and Simon are dead ringers. Yet in temperament, James is everything Simon is not: personable, spontaneous, assertive, and desirable. When James begins to take over Simon’s life, he is forced to act.”

PING PONG SUMMER: Written and directed by Michael Tully. Starring Susan Sarandon, John Hannah, Lea Thompson, Amy Sedaris, Robert Longstreet, Marcello Conte. “The year is 1985. Rad Miracle is a shy, 13-year-old white kid obsessed with two things: Ping-Pong and hip-hop. During his family’s annual summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland, Rad makes a new best friend, experiences his first real crush, becomes the target of rich, racist local bullies, and finds an unexpected mentor in his outcast next-door neighbor. Ping Pong Summer is about that time in your life when you’re treated like an alien by everyone around you, even though you know—deep down—you’re as funky fresh as it gets.”

THE FOXY MERKINS: Directed by Madeleine Olnek. Written by Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Madeleine Olnek. Starring Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Alex Karpovsky, Susan Ziegler, Sally Sockwell, Deb Margolin. “Margaret is a down-on-her-luck, lesbian hooker in training. She meets Jo, a beautiful, self-assured grifter from a wealthy family and an expert on picking up women, even though she considers herself a card-carrying heterosexual. The duo hit the streets, where they encounter bargain-hunting housewives, double-dealing conservative women, husky-voiced seductresses, mumbling erotic accessory salesmen, and shopaholic swingers. Navigating the bizarre fetishes and sexual needs of their “dates” brings into focus the hilarious differences between the two hookers, fellow travelers who share the road, but only for a while.”

LISTEN UP PHILIP: Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume. “Anger rages in Philip as he awaits the publication of his sure-to-succeed second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley, and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip’s idol, Ike Zimmerman, offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject—himself.”

INFINITELY POLAR BEAR: Written and directed by Maya Forbes. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide. “The year is 1978, and the Stuart family is struggling to hold it together. Cameron, a bipolar father, has had a nervous breakdown that leaves him unemployable, and Maggie, a hardworking mother, can’t quite make ends meet. Despite Cameron’s aristocratic pedigree and the couple’s top-notch education, they’re broke. When Maggie decides to accept ascholarship to pursue her MBA in New York, she must leave her daughters, Faith and Amelia, in Boston with their now-somewhat-convalesced father. So begins an untamed, unpredictable, 18-month experiment as eccentric, exuberant Cameron takes over primary parenting of his precocious, sensitive little girls.”

COOTIES: Directed by Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion. Written by Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan. Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad. “Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s first film, Cooties, focuses on the virulent underbelly of grade school. Except this time, the bug that’s going around is transforming the student body from spazzes, tattletales, and brats into deranged, cannibalistic mutants. After an uncharacteristically blood-soaked recess, the surviving teachers and students band together in a desperate attempt to leave the building without being permanently dismissed.”

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE: Written and directed by Justin Simien. Starring Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell. “With tongue planted firmly in cheek, writer/director Justin Simien makes an auspicious debut with Dear White People, a witty and whip-smart satire about black militancy, postracial fantasies, and the commodification of blackness. Nothing is black and white in this playful portrait of race in contemporary America.”

DEAD SNOW; RED VS. DEAD: Starring Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Martin Starr, Ørjan Gamst, Ingrid Haas, Jocelyn DeBoer. “Picking up immediately where the original left off, Dead Snow; Red vs. Dead wastes no time getting right to the gore-filled action, leaving a bloody trail of intestines in its wake. Director Tommy Wirkola returns to the helm with a vengeance, coming up with more inventive ways to maim and dismember than you ever thought possible. Combining wry humor with horrific worst-case scenarios, this follow-up to the 2009 Park City at Midnight classic is sure to shock the weak-of-heart and delight even the most hard-core fans of the horror genre. Colonel Herzog is back, and he is not to be f__ked with. ”

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS: Written, directed by and starring Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement. “Consider the living quarters of vampires, and stodgy old castles in Transylvania may come to mind. But these aren’t your typical bloodsuckers. Viago (379 years old), Deacon (183 years old), Vladislav (862 years old), and Peter (8,000 years old) have chosen to share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. Unfortunately for them, it’s hard to make new friends due to their constant thirst for blood. Without any mortal chums left to invite them in to all of the hip establishments around town, they’ve lost touch with the current social scene. Can these creatures of the night put aside their differences as roommates and adapt to modern society?”

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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