June 13, 2016
Okay, we get the appeal of blockbusters: the car chases, badass soundtrack, super-hot cast…It’s not difficult to get through a whole box of popcorn when everything’s blowing up on-screen. But sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from the cathartic experience of watching superheroes beat up bad guys and dive into the offbeat. A dysfunctional family on a road trip, a reluctant friendship, an examination of love – indie films typically seek to explore and capture the nuances of our lives, which are typically a lot more bittersweet than this summer’s action-packed flick, but all the more beautiful. We’ve barely brushed the surface here, limiting the scope of this article to five American films, so if you like what you see, go forth! The world of Indie awaits.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
We’re not gonna lie: child pageants are creepy – especially after Toddlers & Tiaras. If you thought reality TV couldn’t get any trashier, you were wrong. Watching mothers fuss over their barely 10-year-old daughters by giving them fake tans, ridiculous amounts of make-up and increasingly risqué outfits, all while nearly tearing their hair out over not winning the championship title was enough to make me feel like never turning on the TV again. But the family of Little Miss Sunshine is different, albeit 100 percent dysfunctional. Olive (played by a very young Abigail Breslin) actually wants to compete in the pageant, so her family – in a bid to support her – climbs into an obnoxiously yellow Volkswagen minivan and sets off for California. What follows is a film that is heartbreaking, hilarious and one of the most honest indie films about dealing with love, loss and family all in one sitting.
Paper Heart (2009)
If you’ve never heard of comedienne Charlyne Yi before, you’ll probably be looking out for her once you see this film. While people mainly love bringing up Paper Heart in an attempt to debate how much of a mockumentary it really is, the film’s raw style and awkwardly-charming cast (including the ever iconic Michael Cera) allows for a frank look at budding love and romance – and, to an extent, the art of documentary filmmaking. It’s also nice to see a lead Asian-American character whose vulnerability and shyness are also organic and don’t reduce her into a stock character, for once.
Whip It (2009)
It’s hard not to love Ellen Page, and it’s even harder when she’s on roller-skates. Inspired by Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, Whip It explores the brutal world of roller-derby: the all-girl, all-rowdy, all-real sport of knocking people off their feet and skating around a track as fast as possible. Bliss Cavendar (played by Ellen Page) joins the “Hurl Scouts”, a process which takes her on a journey of self-acceptance and discovery, culminating in a film that’s one of the most charming coming-of-age films of all time.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
No one likes being sad, and no one likes knowing how a movie is going to end before they’ve even seen it. So it’s easy to understand why the premise of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl might steer viewers in the opposite direction from the get-go, but don’t write it off just yet. It won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, after all. And if you try not to give credit to films solely for their accolades, then take it from us: you know the ending of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but that doesn’t make the story any less moving, or important. With a stellar cast and witty, honest dialogue, the film explores our ideas of friendship and hope, and what it means to grow up.
The Wolfpack (2015)
Okay, okay, we cheated a bit: this is a documentary. But the subject matter definitely sounds like something straight out of a fictitious film. Having been locked away in a tiny apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for most of their life due to their fiercely protective father, the six Angulo brothers learnt of the world by watching films, occasionally re-enacting them. It wasn’t until director Crystal Moselle chanced upon them while walking around Manhattan and, curious about their appearance –with their waist-long hair and Ray-Ban sunglasses – struck up a conversation with them. As they bonded over their love of movies, Moselle began to learn more about them, and the rest is history. It’s eye-opening, intriguing, and definitely liberating to watch.
Featured Image: Little Miss Sunshine (2006), dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris