If you’re looking for an inconsequential but confident film during the festival, look no further than Elizabeth Ayiku’s Me Little Me. The film is a kind of character study of Mya (A’Keyah Dasia Williams), a middle manager at a car rental location who struggles to make something of herself. On top of that, she lives in a sort of halfway home for people recovering from eating disorders. Ayiku shows a confidence behind the camera that would belie her status as a first-time feature filmmaker. Unfortunately it’s the script that doesn’t make the most of its potential, as it treads water throughout much of its runtime without making any profound statements or utilizing its dramatic opportunities. Dasia Williams carries the film with a grounded performance, but the screenplay doesn’t give us enough reasons to root for her, let alone give us an idea of what her ultimate goals are. Nevertheless, the film shows that, with the right material, Ayiku could be a filmmaker to look out for in the years to come.
The Grotto feels like the best version of a Hallmark Channel or Lifetime original movie, and that’s not a backhanded compliment. The film, by first-time writer and director Joanna Gleason, tackles issues that are familiar enough to general audiences but feel like they come from a place of sincerity. Betsy Brandt leads the film as Alice, whose fiance recently and unexpectedly passed away. Unbeknownst to Alice, he was the co-owner of the titular bar, a quirky little joint in Palm Springs that plays host to all sorts of misfits and musical acts. The bulk of the film sees her managing the chaos of a life that was hidden from her, and how she can reckon with a past that she thought she had a better handle of. The cast gels together nicely, and the script goes mostly to the places you’d expect it to, so don’t go into The Grotto expecting something revolutionary. Still, it’s clear that Gleason approaches the characters with a sense of reverence, rather than derision, and that sentiment goes a long way in helping the film succeed.
Grief is a common subject amongst today’s cinema landscape, and it’s here where Always, Lola finds itself. Specifically, how we can or cannot grieve someone that we didn’t really love all that much when they were alive. The titular Lola (Roxy Striar) was a wild child who had no direction in life but could bring her friends together better than anyone. Writer and director Jeffrey Crane Graham sets up early in the film that Lola has a penchant for a kind of controlled chaos that actually manages to come off as endearing. She may party a little too hard at times and say or do some hurtful things, but she always manages to show her friends how much they mean to her. This comes back as a kind of Jigsaw-esque scavenger hunt that her twin sister Katherine (Corrinne Mica) puts together, per Lola’s last wishes. The narrative flashes back from the past and present for each friend, and old feuds are brought back up. Turns out you can bury the dead, but you can’t bury your feelings. Always, Lola may contain a few too many narrative contrivances for my tastes, but it’s filled with likable performances and will go down smoothly enough to be enjoyed by general audiences looking for a quick and easy time.