As the box-office and critical success of Wes Anderson's endearingly precious Moonrise Kingdom proves, a winning summer movie doesn't always need a nine-figure special-effects budget. In that vein, three recently released smaller films — Your Sister's Sister, Take This Waltz, and People Like Us — have received high praise from critics, with a fourth, Ruby Sparks, is coming later in the summer. Of course, over the Fourth of July holiday, plenty of people will flock to screenings of The Amazing Spider-Man, which hit theaters July 3 — but for moviegoers looking for something a little more mellow, here's a guide to the best counter-programming options:
1. Your Sister's Sister (released June 15)
When Tom (Mark Duplass) begins to unravel after his brother's death, his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) suggests that he grieve in her family's cabin. When Tom arrives, Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already there mourning the end of her seven-year relationship. A night of drinking and an awkward hook-up follow, made all the more uncomfortable when Iris shows up the next day, setting off an exploration of an increasingly tangled web of relationships between sisters and friends. "So many movies try to capture human relationships and fail miserably," says Claudia Puig at USA Today. "Your Sister's Sister nails it with grace, humor, and winning charm."
2. Take This Waltz (released June 29)
Three-time Oscar-nominee Michelle Williams stars as Margot, a woman in a happy marriage with her husband (Seth Rogen) — until she is shaken by an unsettlingly strong mutual attraction to a man named Daniel (Luke Kirby), who she meets on a plane. Margot soon discovers that Daniel lives across the street from her, meaning that suppressing their longing for each other becomes a daily, arduous task. Take This Waltz is "honest, sure-footed, [and] emotionally generous," exploring the complicated matter of infidelity with rare nuance and humor, says A.O. Scott at The New York Times. The secret weapon is Williams, who "is one of the bravest and smartest actresses working in movies today."
3. People Like Us (released June 29)
Sam (Chris Pine) is a corporate failure who must settle his late father's estate‚ including special instructions to share a bag of cash with a 30-year-old sister (Elizabeth Banks) who Sam never knew he had. Sam struggles with the task, but the two eventually begin to bond. "There's nothing on the contemporary movie landscape" that's like this, says Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline: "A straightforward family comedy-drama, a movie made for adults" that requires its actors to actually act, and inspires its audience to have real emotional responses. The film is fantastic — so "what's with the stupid title?"
4. Ruby Sparks (opens July 25)
A novelist named Calvin (Paul Dano) imagines a character — Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) — who is so spectacular that he begins to fall in love with her. So imagine his surprise when Ruby, with all the qualities he has described using his typewriter, actually comes to life. The film is directed by Little Miss Sunshine's Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and thanks to its inventiveness and irresistible sense of whimsy, is perfect "counter-programming for audiences looking for a break from comics-inspired tentpoles," says Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter. The complex conceit turns the film into "an imaginative high-wire act," but Ruby Sparks pulls it off with "finesse and charm."
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