Sarasota Film Festival So Far

By Megan McDonald April 20, 2012

Just got back from Sarasota Yacht Club, where actress Penelope Ann Miller received the Sarasota Film Festival’s Career Tribute Award during a Filmmaker Luncheon in her honor. Miller (who’s attended the festival several times before and is here this year with the fest offering Think of Me) was introduced by film critic Thelma Adams (formerly with Us Weekly) with a reel of Miller film clips.

As often is the case with these events, that reel was a chance to remind ourselves of the many movies Miller has been in that might have slipped our minds. Of course most recently she’s identified with the Academy Award-winning movie The Artist, but the clips traced her career back from its start in 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting through her work with such icons as Robert De Niro (Awakenings), Al Pacino (Carlito’s Way), Gregory Peck (Other People’s Money) and even Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop).

In many of these movies, it may take a moment to realize the star onscreen is Miller, because as she admitted in her acceptance speech, “I look really different in each film,” varying especially in hair color. (Note: She’s a blonde right now.) Miller, in attendance here with her 11-year-old daughter, Eloisa, said she was “incredibly honored and flattered” that her work up to the present would merit the award. “I’m glad it’s not a lifetime award,” she quipped, “because that would mean it’s over. And I have a lot more to accomplish.”

Miller also spoke of her Big Top Pee Wee costar Paul Reubens (who reminded her that he’s a Sarasota High School alum; Miller will be speaking there tomorrow at 1 p.m. as part of the festival’s Conversations series), and her previous experiences at the Sarasota festival. She was present during the fest’s inaugural year, when she attended a party at current festival president Mark Famiglio’s house and she, says, “had so much fun. I was here with Jon Favreau; we were both single then, and there was a party bus. I fell in love with Sarasota. I feel a deep connection to this festival, and I’ll come back anytime you want me.”

Of course, the movies are the most important part of the festival, and as always, I’ve been feeling all week the frustration that other responsibilities mean I can’t see as many as I’d like. One I squeezed in the other afternoon was Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, directed by Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy). The movie boasts an impressive cast, too, including Catherine Keener as a conservative lawyer estranged from her quintessential hippie/earth mother mom (Jane Fonda, in an obvious nod to her own 1960s counterculture persona).

The movie, set in Woodstock, N.Y., brings Keener and her kids (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) to visit Grandma when Keener’s character finds herself on the verge of a divorce. It’s nicely shot and directed by Beresford, but the script, predictable from the outset, never gave us any surprises, or much insight into the characters’ motivations. Too bad considering the star power here.

What films have you seen so far at the festival? Best, worst, most exciting? Scroll down a bit to post your comment.  Meanwhile, I’m off this evening to see Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse, the festival’s Centerpiece Film, and drop in at the Cinema Tropicale party.

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