Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel's US Documentary Competition entry "Finders Keepers" has one of the most salacious loglines of any film at Sundance this year.
"Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction."
It's a synopsis with a review blurb practically built in, because Sundance is often a haven for the quirky and absurd and, at least on the surface, "Finders Keepers" has the sort of plot that no screenwriter in his or her right mind would ever dream up.
And were "Finders Keepers" just the story of a couple of North Carolina bumpkins bickering over a mummified leg that one of them lost in a tragic plane accident and the other purchased in a storage locker auction, it would be fun and sensationalistic and probably ultimately condescending, but we wouldn't care about that because of the fun inherent in giggling at rednecks.
And "Finders Keepers" isn't that at all.
The reason why Carberry and Tweel's film works is practically the opposite of its stranger-than-fiction freak show trappings. Despite a very reasonable running time of under 90 minutes, "Finders Keepers" digs underneath its initial craziness and finds two very real, damaged humans at the center. "Finders Keepers" may, indeed, be stranger-than-fiction, but it's finally significantly less strange and far more relatable than you would initially guess or perhaps fear.
The reason "Finders Keepers" will probably be better than most of the narrative films at Sundance this year isn't that no screenwriter could ever make up a story this wacky, but that no screenwriter would be able to craft characters as layered as John Wood and Shannon Whisnant.