South By Southwest: 6 movies you should know about

Reviews of the festival's buzziest movie premieres, including Veronica Mars, Neighbors, and Beyond Clueless

Zac Effron
(Image credit: (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>))

There is no shortage of things to do at Austin's annual South By Southwest festival, including tech panels, concerts, and countless opportunities to wolf down tacos and beer. But for film fans, the nine-day event also comes with a challenge: How many movies can you manage to see? And which ones are worth writing home about?

Allow The Week to be your guide. Here, six movies you should know about from the first half of South By Southwest:

1. Veronica Mars

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Directed by Rob Thomas

Starring Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni, and Krysten Ritter

What is it? If you don’t already know about this highly anticipated revival of the teen detective show Veronica Mars, which came about via a Kickstarter campaign, you’re probably not on Twitter. The film revisits the show’s cast 10 years after the 2007 series finale, as Veronica (Bell) heads back to Neptune to help out her ex-boyfriend Logan (Dohring).

Should you see it? Absolutely — but it’s worth noting that only Veronica Mars fans will be able to appreciate everything the movie is doing. (To be fair, they did spend $5.7 million to get it made.) Fortunately, it’s also more than just an extension of the television show; it’s a fully fleshed-out movie that allows for sexier scenes, a broader vocabulary for Veronica’s quips, and a plot line that reintroduces Veronica and her ongoing search for identity. It’s funny, sexy, joyful, and full of heart. If you’re already a fan, you won’t be disappointed; if you aren’t, you’ll be one by the time the credits roll.

2. Obvious Child

Directed by Gillian Robespierre

Starring Jenny Slate, Gaby Hoffmann, Jake Lacy

What Is It? Donna (Slate) is a stand-up comedian who gets dumped and fired, and learns she’s pregnant — all in time for Valentine’s Day.

Should you see it? Yes — if you’re a woman, this is the movie you’ve been waiting your whole life for. Donna is charmingly relatable: Funny, messy, and sexy in a way that feels truly feminine. Team her up with BFF Nellie (Hoffmann, who is enjoying a resurgence) and you’ve got a perfect match. There are few films that have the ambition or intelligence to tackle modern womanhood, but Obvious Child makes it look easy.

3. Neighbors

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, and Ike Barinholtz

What is it? The latest movie from Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller follows a young couple (Rogen and Byrne) with a new house and a new baby. When a wild fraternity (led by hunky Efron) moves in next door, they’re forced to face how dramatically their lives have changed.

Should you see it? Yes. Stoller’s comedy is raunchy but not stupid, and Neighbors falls into line with his previous work. While the prank war that rages between the couple and the fraternity is hilarious, the heart of the movie lies in the film’s relationships. Rogen and Byrne are funny and adorable as new parents who are still aching to be cool. And Efron and Franco (who steals the show) are great as a pair of best bros who can’t fully express their anxieties about their impending graduation.

4. Beyond Clueless

Directed by Charlie Lyne

What is it? A documentary about the onslaught of teen films that hit theaters after the success of Clueless, the 1995 movie starring Alicia Silverstone.

Should you see it? If you have any interest in the genre, totally. Lyne’s documentary is about what makes teen movies tick, analyzing what over 200 films are really saying about teen culture, sexuality, gender, and class. Lyne’s personal enthusiasm for teen films reverberates in every frame — making it clear that these films meant just as much to him as they did to you.

5. Take Care

Directed by Liz Tuccillo

Starring Leslie Bibb and Thomas Sadoski

What is it? When Frannie (Bibb) gets hit by a car, she reaches out to her friends to help her recover — but when they fail to give her the support she needs, she reluctantly turns to her ex-boyfriend (Sadoski).

Should you see it? Only if you’re hungry for a romantic comedy. Take Care is sharp and witty, but it takes time to get going. Tuccillo’s direction makes Frannie’s apartment as claustrophobic for the audience as it is for her — but that small-scale intimacy eventually pays off in the chemistry between Bibb and Sadoski. In particular, Bibb shines in the lead as Frannie, a role that finally showcases her great comedic timing and adept physical comedy. Take note, Hollywood.

6. The Heart Machine

Directed by Zachary Wigon

Starring Kate Lyn Sheil and John Gallagher Jr.

What is it? Cody (Gallagher) begins to suspect that his long-distance girlfriend, whom he met via online dating, may actually be living in New York as well.

Should you see it? Yes, but temper your expectations. The Heart Machine is a timely and interesting rumination about communication, online dating, and the ability of humans to connect — but despite strong performances from Gallagher and Sheil, it never quite comes together. There are plenty of intriguing questions raised by The Heart Machine, but the answers (when they come at all) aren’t wholly satisfying.

(Images courtesy SXSW)

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Kerensa Cadenas is an editor for Snakkle, a pop culture throwback site. She has also written about TV, films, and music for Women and Hollywood, Bitch, Ms. Magazine, This Was TV, and Forever Young Adult.