First things first: I do not like change. And guess what? I really like routine. And the three places I have obtained quick, affordable nourishment-on-the-fly from for the past three years at TIFF – a Second Cup, a Harvey’s, and a Green Mango – are either holes in the ground, for lease or expanding soon into a bigger jewelry store. For fuck.
I tried to keep it Canadian, I really did, but it’s Starbucks and street meat from here on in.
I arrived on Thursday afternoon, booted it to the Sutton Place Hotel, where they moved the press office last year, and got my pass quickly, signing my name under Beverly Thomson as I do every year. (Someday we will meet, there at the clipboard, and I’ll be like, “What is the deal with Seamus?”) Twas a warm Toronto aft – though not as warm as this time last year, when it was 38 degrees and I almost got on a plane back home – so of course I was looking for air conditioning, and I found that a full day of press screenings was already in swing, so I breezed into Ghost Town.
It was directed by David Koepp, who’s written some very good films (Panic Room, The Paper), Spielberg blockbusters (Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds) and, uh, Stir of Echoes, which he also directed. This is meant to be Ricky Gervais’ breakout American role – he stars as a curmudgeonly dentist who dies for seven minutes leaving him stuck in this life and the after, meaning he can see ghosts and they all want something from him, including Greg Kinnear, who was cheating on his wife (Tea Leoni) when he died but still doesn’t want her to marry Billy Campbell. (Who can’t relate?) It’s funny in bursts, maudlin in others, surprisingly poignant near the end and boasts an amazing supporting performance from the unstoppable Kristen Wiig. Whether it will work for Gervais remains to be seen; dude really is a schmo, but hey, schmoes are in right now so who knows.
After the screening I stood in line for half an hour to try and get a ticket to the premiere of Me and Orson Welles, directed by Richard Linklater, one of my filmmaking heroes and the most underrated modern director. But that shit was sold out (damn you Zac Efron!), and my pass didn’t allow me entrance to my other choice, Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. Dejected, I wandered into the lobby, which was like the scene from Almost Famous when Penny and William first walk into the Riot House, and immediately ran into the friendly Halifax trifecta of Bill Niven, Eva Madden (who’s here to participate in TIFF’s annual pitch session, which is where Chaz Thorne’s Poor Boy’s Game got its legs back in 2001) and her fiancé Drew Hagen, who won last year’s script contest at the Atlantic Film Festival and has a few projects on the go. We made a promise to meet up later but Eva and I tried this last year too and it never happened so we’ll see. Then I ate Greek food and fell asleep.
Here’s a boring thing I need to explain because it will come to colour the rest of this blog: Sundance, Cannes and most of the big fests have a bunch of different badges that rank people according to circulation/power/Roger Ebertness that allow various kinds of access. (Telluride has no press passes!) There I was the lowliest. But at TIFF everybody used to have the same press badge that let you into the same press screenings and if you knew a publicist or something that was your own situation. Last year, however, they added Priority Press screenings that were usually on the same day as regular press screenings but for those more high-powered journos who would be getting one-on-one talent interviews or worked for Entertainment Weekly or something.
This year they found a balance I feared would not work in my favour – Priority Press with rush access. So once all the bigs are in, if there’s room, schmoes like me are allowed a seat. The problem was that two of my biggest picks -- Rachel Getting Married and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist -- only got the one PP screening. I assumed I would stand in a line for more than half an hour just to be denied.
So this morning, due to circumstances beyond my control I was later than I’d intended, and as I reached the top of the escalator the line for Nick and Norah was already headed in. I joined at the end, double-checking with a volunteer that I wouldn’t get the hand at the door. No problem. Hmm.
The movie itself is destined to be a Dazed and Confused/Empire Records sort of cult hit – too smart and indie to resonate with today’s teen dumbass or LCD mouth-breather. Aside about Michael Cera: dude has been coasting on Arrested Development goodwill for literally every performance since, and I’m sick of it. Sure it’s charming but so was Drew Barrymore once. He makes me really, really angry, inexplicably considering he seems to be a nice person, I just don’t think he has any range. So I had that chip on my shoulder going in, despite loving this kind of love-amongst-the-rock genre.
I was not wrong, exactly – he’s still doing the same deadpan delivery, awkward speech patterns and hoodie-wearing he’s done in every other damn thing – but like Jack Black in School of Rock, this movie is the right forum for it. The set-up is simple: Nick is heartbroken over an ex (Alexis Dziena) that he’s sent 12 mix CDs to. She keeps throwing them out, and they’re picked up by school chum Norah (Kat Dennings, the freshest face on any kind of a screen since Amber Tamblyn talked to God). Nick and Norah meet cute at a club and all-night hijinks ensue. Directed by Peter Sollett, who made the terrific Raising Victor Vargas, the movie is loaded with indie rock – Modest Mouse, Ratatat, Devandra Banhart and, ugh, Vampire Weekend – and a great ensemble of mostly unknowns. It’s a lot of fun but definitely for a certain generation – the 60-plus gentleman who came in late and sat beside me slept through most of it.
It was down to the crappy grocery store in the basement of the Varsity for a yogurt and water break and then right back up to join the line for Rachel Getting Married, another priority presser. The food stop was my mistake – the line stretched down a theatre-adjacent hall, down two sets of stairs AND INTO THE GODDAMN STREET. For reals! “I am literally standing outside,” announced the woman behind me into her phone. I calmly ate my yogurt as a strong wind blew cardboard boxes into cars. Not five minutes went by when we got the wave and I ended up back in the same theatre two rows in front of where I’d been sitting half an hour ago.
If the last Jonathan Demme movie you saw was Silence of the Lambs or Philadelphia -- and with Beloved, The Truth About Charlie and The Machurian Candidate in between who could blame you; I quite enjoyed his TIFF07 doc Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains -- then Rachel Getting Married might throw you for a loop. It’s shot handheld, Friday Night Lights-style, all swerving and circles and people’s faces, and a lot of the footage looks deliberately degraded, perhaps, if I may film wank you for a moment, to drive home the point of lives worn down.
It stars Anne Hathaway, one of a tiny handful of respectable actresses in her age bracket, as Kym, a lifelong addict just out of rehab in time for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding. So you can imagine what happens when warring, volatile personalities reconnect in these kinds of familial circumstances – sudden screaming fights, tears, dishwasher-related contests, punching Debra Winger in the face. It’s a big, messy movie (and a touch overlong at nearly two hours) but a major step for Hathaway, who has calmly but surely climbed a ladder built on frickin’ Princess Diaries. The joy and the fear of a movie this intimate being shot so intimately is that there’s nowhere for her, or anybody, to hide. A lesser film would excise or pare long setpieces and speeches, but by sticking with them, Demme always gets that one more thing out of the moment. It’s my favourite kind of movie, about character and relationships stretched over the barest of plots and one, I dare say, he’s yet to make – the American indie drama. The thing is not, of course, an indie, but it has that daring and grit, like something that would storm Sundance and be a sleeper hit.
But what do I know – a woman on the escalator down shrugged it off. “I’ve seen that movie a million times,” she sniffed, and I don’t know how she saw anything through her Chanel sunglasses, which she was wearing, inside, on a cloudy day.