On Scene

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Pass the popcorn

Saturday night in Park City, Utah, San Francisco 49'ers quarterback Alex Smith was standing on a street corner with an entourage of burly guys. Paris Hilton, 50 Cent and Method Man were at a nearby party. During four days at the Sundance Film Festival, which fades to black tonight, our sightings included Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy and Quentin Tarantino, with disputed glimpses of what may or may not have been Kirsten Dunst and Paul Simon.

Most of our crew of 14 or so caught six flicks during our time in Park City. Those films varied depending on which tickets you got and how early you woke up - thankfully, two of our resourceful friends left the condo at 5:15 two mornings in a row to score seats, for all and per request, at the main box office while the rest of us slept.

Of the films I saw, one was brilliant, two were very good, two were decent and one was so terrible that I think the only reason we stayed for the whole show was because we were like Cubs fans, desperately believing that things had to get better. We went to see a zombie movie, and left with images burned into our brains that had to be immediately killed with alcohol. I will say no more of it.

The brilliant film was "The Wackness," written and directed by Jonathan Levine. It's a coming-of-age story set in New York City in the summer of 1994, about a recently graduated high school senior who sees a therapist for problems including impending eviction, parental struggles and, of course, the ladies. Sir Ben Kingsley, of "Gandhi" fame, plays the therapist and steals the show - or would if the main character, Josh Peck of Nickelodeon fame, didn't turn in such a heart-warming performance along with co-star Olivia Thirlby from "Juno." (Thirlby's not the lead in "Juno," she's the friend of the girl who gets pregnant.)

I graduated from high school in '95, and while New Hampshire is nowhere close to New York - in so many ways - the music, the Adidas, and the overwrought emotions all hit home, often hilariously.

After the screening that began at 9 a.m. Sunday, the crowd that got in lines hours before the show jumped into a standing O - the only one I saw all weekend, and by a packed house at the largest venue at Sundance.

In the Q&A that followed, Thirlby snapped photos of the crowd while Levine quipped one-liners and Peck explained to one astounded mother how he could jump from children's television to the tough realities of NYC in '94. He told the mother that he wanted to do something real. I think he certainly did.

If there is justice in the film world, "The Wackness" will get bought and distributed to theaters across the country, including Steamboat. But in case it doesn't, let me burn this image into your brain - Kingsley getting it on with Mary Kate Olsen, who had a minor role, in the back of a bar.

Sundance had a surprise every minute.

- Mike Lawrence/4 Points

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