Sundance Diary, volume five: it's Mark Duplass' world, we just live in it

Mark Duplass does not sleep. He waits.

In a series of posts, Midnites for Maniacs curator-host and Academy of Art film-history teacher Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports on the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Check out his first, second, third, and fourth entries.

Colin Trevorrow's quasi-romantic quirkfest Safety Not Guaranteed, which won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, also achieved a near-miracle by coaxing smiles out of some of Sundance's grumpiest audiences. Speaking of wonderfully grumpy, this movie stars Parks and Recreation fave Aubrey Plaza and Jake M. Johnson of The New Girl; their priceless personas are in big-screen effect as their characters hunt down a man who posted a classified ad in search of a time-travel companion.

What makes this film truly work is the sheer sincerity of Mark Duplass (as the would-be time traveller). His performance not only hilariously channels Michael J. Fox in 1985's Back to the Future, but he genuinely achieves a level of poignancy that perfectly fits the film's motif of loneliness. Safety Not Guaranteed looks to have the same mainstream crossover appeal that Miguel Arteta tapped into last year with Cedar Rapids.

The busy Duplass was part of two other films at this year's festival, including Lynn Shelton's pitch-perfect indie flick Your Sister's Sister, the follow-up to her genre-defining bromance Humpday (2009). Depressed and confused 30-something Jack (Duplass, who is truly a master of casual awkwardness) heads off to a remote island to figure out where his life is headed. The only trouble: his best friend (a mesmerizing Emily Blunt) also has a lesbian sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) who is already on the island doing her own soul searching. With this contemplative, honest, and hilarious film, Shelton proves herself to be quite a splendid voice for our current generation of progressive pitfallers. Once again, Duplass brings a sensitivity to his modern-male roles that generations to come will still be deconstructing.

Duplass also wrote the screenplay for Black Rock, directed by (and starring) his wife, Katie Aselton (2010's improvised marriage drama The Freebie). Easily the best entry in this year's Park City at Midnight category, Black Rock is about three BFFs (Aselton, Kate Bosworth, and Lake Bell) whose weekend reunion on a remote island goes awry when they run into some ... threatening situations. This tense, brilliantly revisionist genre flick manages to pave new roads for a genuine, even primal feminism long overdue in the horror genre. Let me be the first to put this on the same level as Neil Marshall's The Descent (2005).

On Monday: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks takes on Sundance's Dramatic Competition films. Oh, the drama!