Blockbuster and major studio films are fine and all, but there’s a special spot in our hearts for the underrated indie. New York writer-director Noah Baumbach has multiple works on the streaming site right now (The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Fantastic Mr.Fox, Frances Ha, While We’re Young) and we’re besotted with his sharp and poignant insights into dysfunctional family life. If you’re gearing up for a weeknight watch or have pencilled in a Netflix bout tonight, consider our independent picks that will make you feel till you cry (or laugh – or both).
In this unfeigned drama, our aforementioned writer-director crush Noah Baumbach paints the messy portrait of a crumbling marriage. An egoistic novelist (Jeff Daniels) and his soon-to-be-ex writer wife (Laura Linney) are at pains as their two sons, played wryly by Jesse Eisenberg and precociously by Owen Kline (actor Kevin Kline’s son), struggle with the split. In short, it’s real, riotous and a sucker punch to the guts.
2. Blue Jay
Blue Jay is writer and actor Mark Duplass’ black-and-white exploration of the road not travelled, in which two former high-school sweethearts cross paths while on separate trips to their hometown. While rehashing on old times, unresolved affections resurface. The chemistry of the two leads (Sarah Paulson, and the film’s screenwriter, Duplass) gives this memory-lane tale serious heart and boundless charm. It’s bittersweet, but most of the good ones are.
Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 film, Drive, is a quiet love story disguised as an indie-action flick – wincing violence, screaming car chases, murder and all. The soundtrack is as enigmatic a drawcard as its deftly shot cinematography and star cast (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan). In it, Gosling plays a Hollywood stuntman moonlighting as a getaway driver whose isolated existence is put on pause by a beautiful neighbour, played by Mulligan, and her son. Then, of course, her no-good husband returns home from prison to shake shit up.
I watched this film on a whim, skeptical to start, but entirely won over by its finish. Another by Noah Baumbach, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a New York-set family drama about adult step-siblings (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel) prematurely grieving their ill and strong-willed father (Dustin Hoffman), and finally facing up to the long shadow he’s cast over them all these years. It begs the pondering of why some relatives only catch-up on unhappy occasions, and the occasional beauty and warmth to behold once they do.
In a review of the film in Filmmaker, Howard Feinstein called Little Sister “an unaffected masterpiece.” This 2016 indie dramedy, written and directed by Zach Clark, tells the story of a young goth turned nun, who returns to her childhood home in North Carolina after her war-hero brother is disfigured in combat. It burrows into human relationships and the ways we deal with loss and hurt through the lens of an awkward family reunion.
Macon Blair’s directorial debut stars Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood as two amateur detectives looking for justice in a world gone nuts. The black comedy won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2017 for its portrayal of a nursing assistant name Ruth who enlists her neighbour to help her track down the scum who robbed her home.
Tallulah is a Netflix original written and directed by Sian Heder (Orange is the New Black). Free-spirited and potty-mouthed vagabond Lu (Ellen Page) lives in a van with the street smarts to make it work. After breaking up with her boyfriend, she has a chance encounter with a negligent mother, kidnapping her baby and pretending the child is her own. In his review, David Sims of The Atlantic writes, “Tallulah’s success is in turning its overblown plot into a simple, grounded tale; in fact, it’s the film’s quietest moments, the slow, empathetic connections built up between its characters, that hit the hardest, and help it linger.”