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Release Rundown: What to Watch in May, from “Happening” to “Emergency”

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Three young men of color in a car

An epic frat party turns into an examination of racial dynamics for three students of color (RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Chacon) in Emergency.

By Vanessa Zimmer

Racial tensions, suicidal thoughts, unexpected pregnancy — the following Sundance Film Festival alums, which are releasing to the wider world in May, hit on today’s serious, hot-button issues.

But, in true Sundance fashion, at least two of these movies (On the Count of Three and Emergency) inject some humor and satire into the mix — ultimately enhancing viewers’ understanding of our world. 

This month, these Festival films, two of them from the 2022 Festival, send out their unique takes on life, its vagaries and obstacles, and the human coping response.

Three young friends relax on a park bench.

Anamaria Vartolomei (middle) portrays a French university student seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy in Happening.

Happening — In 1963 France, a promising university student desperately seeks to end an unwanted pregnancy — despite strict anti-abortion laws and sentiment — in an attempt to reclaim her future beyond her working-class roots. An adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel, Audrey Diwan’s film stars Anamaria Vartolomei, who effectively immerses viewers in the young woman’s plight. The movie screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Opens in theaters May 6.

A young, blond woman in a red swimming suit floats in a pink inflatable boat in a swimming pool.

Bella (newcomer Sofia Kappel) arrives in Los Angeles from Sweden, intent on becoming the next big porn star, in Pleasure.

Pleasure — Bella (newcomer Sofia Kappel) arrives in Los Angeles from Sweden, intent on becoming the next big porn star. Writer-director Ninja Thyberg brought this provocative film to the 2021 Sundance Film Festival; it is a feature-length expansion of her 2014 short film. “Thyberg cunningly ties audiences’ experiences to Bella’s, as the daring, immersive Pleasure uses its explicit portrayal to expose rather than titillate, offering a no-holds-barred worker’s-eye view of the industry,” writes Heidi Zwicker in the Festival Film Guide. Opens in theaters May 13.

Two men point guns at each other's head.

Christopher Abbott (left) and Jerrod Carmichael portray best friends who make a suicide pact in On the Count of Three.

On the Count of Three — Jerrod Carmichael directs and stars alongside Christopher Abbott in this affecting dark comedy about best friends who make a suicide pact. First, though, they must wrap up their affairs. The film played at the 2021 Festival, where writers Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Opens in limited theatrical release May 13.

Emergency — Two Black college students (RJ Cyler and Donald Elise Watkins) set out, red plastic cups in hand, for an epic frat party/tour. Stopping at home base, they find a white woman unconscious on their living room floor — leaving them and their Latinx roommate (Sebastian Chacon) in a quandary over contacting police under such circumstances. Festival alum Carey Williams directs this feature-length version of his 2018 short. “Bringing K.D. Dávila’s sharp and layered writing to life through an incredibly talented breakout cast, Williams hazes us with a timely and biting satire in which racial dynamics unmask a world so absurd that it could only be real,” according to the 2022 Film Festival Guide. Releases on Amazon Prime on May 27.

These first two 2021 Sundance Film Festival movies opened in a few theaters earlier this year and continue marching outward in limited release. The third, also playing the 2021 Festival, is currently streaming.

A children's party magician teaches a young assistant a card trick.

A children’s party magician (Rhea Perlman) and 13-year-old wayward Sammy ((Miya Cech) develop a special bond in Marvelous and the Black Hole.

Marvelous and the Black Hole —Thirteen-year-old Sammy (Miya Cech) is quickly becoming a teenage delinquent. But then she meets a children’s party magician (Rhea Perlman), and the two develop an unexpected bond. “With sensitivity and care, director Kate Tsang delivers a touching coming-of-age story punctuated by moments of whimsy and magic,” according to the Festival Film Guide. Also available for rent on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Apple TV, Google Play and Microsoft Movies.

A young woman in a red dress looks into a series of mirrors.

Marian (Alessandra Mesa) retreats to the home of her identical twin sister (Ani Mesa) to hide out, placing both in danger, in Superior.

Superior — Marian (Alessandra Mesa) retreats to the home of her identical twin sister (Ani Mesa) to hide out, putting their very different lives and personalities on a collision course, and placing both in danger. Director Erin Vassilopoulos expands the story of her 2015 Festival short. “Superior is a visually luscious thriller that keeps the tension tight as the narrative navigates between violent memories and two sisters rediscovering their bond,” according to the Festival Film Guide. “From the music to the set design, every detail oozes style and intention — and heralds the undeniable arrival of a new voice in American independent cinema.”

A man in bubble headgear stands in a field.

A decent man (Daniel Katz) negotiates the troubles of life and a poisoned atmosphere in The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet.

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet — A decent, likable 30-ish man (Daniel Katz) negotiates the troubled turns in his life — the neighbors who complain his seemingly well-behaved dog is too noisy, the boss who tells him employees can no longer bring pets to the office, and that’s just the beginning. Then a mysterious event poisons the atmosphere four feet above the Earth’s surface, forcing inhabitants to wear expensive bubble headgear and/or to walk stooped so as not to breathe the toxic air. The story is offbeat, eschews traditional plot and structure, and is shot in black and white, with illustrations. Streaming now on Mubi.

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