By Bryan Alexander
Sexual themes ranging from kinky to creepy spice up the slate of 119 feature films and documentaries at the annual Sundance Film Festival, which opens its 11-day run Thursday in Park City, Utah.
More than a dozen movies take on intimate human interaction, a number that's "part circumstance, part coincidence," says festival director John Cooper. "But it's an in-depth exploration of the subject of sexual relationships - how they are all part of our basic human need. This hasn't been explored as deeply as we seem to be exploring it now."
Among the high-profile offerings are the bondage-themed documentaryKink, with James Franco as executive producer;Concussion,a drama about a lesbian housewife who gives up the suburban life to begin working as a prostitute, from award-winning writer/director Stacie Passon; andDon Jon's Addiction, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directing premiere, a comedy about a porn-addicted character who can't relate to women until he is aided by two friends (Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore).
A number of stars have been lured by the chance to delve into provocative material, including Kristen Bell (TV'sVeronica Marsseries),who appears inThe Lifeguard,about a woman who returns to her childhood home where she begins a passionate affair with a teenager.
"It's an unusual role for me, that's what attracted me to it," says Bell. "I've done goofy sexuality like in (2008's)Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But nothing that was this intimate. And it was scary to do."
A similar theme is explored inA Teacher,about a Texas high school educator (Lindsay Burdge) who begins an affair with one of her students (Will Brittain). Doubling down on the concept, the dramaTwo Mothersstars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as lifelong friends who begin affairs with each other's sons.
The focus goes younger as Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen portray girls who make a pact to lose their virginity, in the dramaVery Good Girls. Similarly, Shailene Woodley's character loses her virginity to lead character Miles Teller in the coming-of-age filmThe Spectacular Now.And in Drake Doremus'Breathe In, Felicity Jones plays a student staying with a family who embarks on an affair with the household's father (Guy Pearce).
The exploitation of sexual power is explored in Michael Winterbottom'sThe Look of Love, about the scandalous world of Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), who opened the first "gentleman's club" in London's seedy Soho area; andLovelace,in which Amanda Seyfried stars as porn-star turned anti-porn crusader Linda Lovelace.
?"The themes and stories in films we show can be challenging to some, but ultimately, our mission is to show excellent and original work," says Cooper.
"The times are changing, and relationships are changing,'' adds Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford. "It would be a mistake to say this is sex for sex's sake. The films are looking into sexual relations."