Sundance Film Review: ‘Tyrel’

The lone black guy at a dude-bros’ drunken rural weekend feels very much the odd man out in Sebastián Silva's latest.

Director:
Sebastián Silva
With:
Jason Mitchell, Christopher Abbott, Michael Cera, Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Zegen, Phillip Entingen, Roddy Bottom, Max Born, Nicolas Arze, Trust Arancio, Ann Dowd, Reg. E. Cathey.

1 hour 26 minutes

Think “Get Out” without the horror-fantasy element, but with a lot more alcohol consumption, and you’ve got the gist of “Tyrel.” Sebastián Silva’s latest is a discomfiting snapshot of an African-American guest’s awkward weekend among an otherwise all-white bunch of strangers bro-ing it up at a cabin in the Catskills. Not an especially pointed commentary about race or anything else, this lively, unpleasant seriocomedy nonetheless does very well at capturing the queasiness of being alone and uneasy at a party you immediately know you won’t fit into. That’s not a sensation anybody relishes experiencing — on- or off-screen — suggesting limited prospects perhaps more in the realm of the writer-helmer’s “Nasty Baby” and “Magic Magic” than his relative hits “The Maid” and “Crystal Fairy.”

Thirty-ish Tyler (Jason Mitchell from “Mudbound” and “Straight Outta Compton”) needs to get out of the city for a bit, as his girlfriend’s drama-filled family have taken over their apartment for a few days. Ergo he agrees to go along when friend Johnny (Christopher Abbott) invites him to drive upstate and hang out with the latter’s buddies, an all-male crew ostensibly gathering at Nico’s (Nicolas Arze) rural cabin to celebrate the birthday of Pete (Caleb Landry Jones). The energy is immediately over-the-top in a way that everyone else is familiar with, but which Tyler finds off-putting.

These guys have their rituals, which to any outsider might look stupid, because indeed they are: nonsensical competitive “games,” trash-talking, mutual goading that’s essentially harmless but which Tyler doesn’t quite know how to take. Though there are milder personalities here, like token gay guy Dylan (Roddy Bottom), the collective vibe is a little raucous and challenging for a newcomer, with birthday boy Pete the most grating, pushy presence of all. No wonder the only resident Tyler really warms to at first is canine Cosmo, a sweet-natured pit bull.

The first night, our protagonist deals with the abrasive bacchanal by claiming fatigue and retiring to bed early, a move that gets him called out by Johnny for being a spoilsport. The next day, which turns up the volume further with the arrival of additional dudes, Tyler defensively overindulges in booze and alcohol, which somehow only puts him out of step with everyone else again. Though in his inebriated state he does bond with flamboyant latecomer Alan (Michael Cera), things get yea more drunk and disorderly until he flees into the night — a freezing winter night — just to be somewhere, anywhere else.

Nothing terrible happens in “Tyrel,” at least no more terrible than the kind of weekend you hope to forget because of personal behavior you don’t entirely remember anyway, among people you’d probably prefer not to see again. There’s an early portent that hidden racial prejudices will prove the elephant in the room here — one of the dumb “games” embarrassingly forces Tyler to perform a “black accent” — but that doesn’t really turn out to be the case. Tyler’s discomfort is somewhat racially-based, somewhat cultural, but mostly just plain social. These simply aren’t his kind of people, and their fun too often consists of things he can’t remotely relate to, like howling out old REM songs. Even their discussion of religion and politics (it’s the weekend of Trump’s inauguration) is flippant in a way he finds vaguely galling.

Sharply observed but lacking in the probing psychological insights of Silva’s best movies, “Tyrel” is a chamber piece whose rhythms feel entirely natural (it’s shot in cast member Arze’s house), but which doesn’t resonate greatly after the fadeout. The catharsis one normally waits for in this kind of dramatic piece (revolving around the dinner party or wherever inhibitions are dangerously lowered) never arrives. The film feels like an authentic slice of experience, and at the same time it doesn’t say all that much.

Nonetheless, there’s no doubting the expert way that Silva and his collaborators shape this entertaining if often squirm-inducing minor work, from the assured ensemble work by variably pro actors to the easy intimacy of Alexis Zabe’s widescreen lensing.

Sundance Film Review: 'Tyrel'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 20, 2017. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (International sales: UTA, Los Angeles.) Producers: Max Born, Sebastián Silva, Jacob Wasserman, Gigi Graff, Carlos Zozaya. Executive producer: Nicolas Arze.

Crew: Director, writer: Sebastián Silva. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Alexis Zabe. Editors: Sofia Subercaseaux, Jennifer Lame.

With: Jason Mitchell, Christopher Abbott, Michael Cera, Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Zegen, Phillip Entingen, Roddy Bottom, Max Born, Nicolas Arze, Trust Arancio, Ann Dowd, Reg. E. Cathey.

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