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TIFF Day 1 & 2

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Always happy to be back for a week at Toronto’s Scotiabank Theatre, looming above John Street with its escalator to the sky and wildly variant air-conditioning levels.

Catherine Hardwicke came out swinging with 2003’s thirteen, a gritty coming-of-age story starring Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed that went from Sundance sensation to Academy Award nomination for Holly Hunter. A couple movies later—including an adaptation of Dogtown and Z-Boys— she directed a lightly budgeted teen vampire story with cheap effects you may have heard of when it became a worldwide smash called Twilight. In a rush to capitalize on the new knowledge that teen girls go to the movies, the studio wanted a sequel before the script even existed, Hardwicke protested, and was fired. A couple movies later later she’s back on track with Miss You Already, starring Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore as BFFs Milly and Jess. When Milly is diagnosed with cancer, Jess hides her own good news that’s she’s finally pregnant. Dominic Cooper and Paddy Considine are the respective love interests. Though it follows the traditional terminal illness arc, Miss You Already is in the same vein as Walking and Talking, Tina Fey/Amy Poehler jams and Bridesmaids in its examination of the particular intensity of deep female friendships. Collette is reliably great while Barrymore surprises with a loose, down-to-earth turn. [img-1]

The Lobster, also on at the Atlantic Film Festival, is one of the season’s buzziest entries and for good reason: It’s about a future in which single people are outlawed (uh oh) and a luxury hotel of sorts where people have 40 days to find a life mate. If they don’t they’re turned into an animal of their choice and released to the wild. Obviously. Yorgos Lanthimos’ batshittery is actually a satire, managing to pull in a number of well-known faces including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly. It’s beautifully shot, particularly weird and uncomfortably good at highlighting loneliness.

More straightforward but no less unsettling is Eva Husson’s Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), based on the true events of French teens who romped through a summer of sex parties. It initially follows two couples until their experimentation gets wild and feelings start getting hurt. Under a man’s direction—Larry Clark, say—it would’ve been about exploitation and titillation; Husson instead finds the boredom and detachment experienced by people who are connecting physically but not emotionally, at a time in their lives when they need it the most. Somehow the end is downright sweet.

This year’s TIFF has a handful of high-profile LGBTQ films including the already-maligned Stonewall, Freeheld (more on that next post), Eddie Redmayne’s turn as the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery in The Danish Girl and Saturday morning’s first screening for me, About Ray. (Where is the most highly anticipated gay film of the year, Todd HaynesCarol, breathtakingly reviewed in Venice? No one seems to know.) [img-2]

Starring Elle Fanning, who may be even better than big sister Dakota, About Ray is a not-quite-there story about a trans teen trying to get his long-gone father’s approval to transition. He and his mom (Naomi Watts) live with his grandmother (Susan Sarandon in a killer wardrobe) and her partner (Maria Dizzia), which is starting to become untenable. And even though she’s an old-school lesbian, Sarandon is not so sure about Ray’s situation. Directed by the UK’s Gaby Dellal with a broad audience in mind, the movie is essentially Trans 101 for Middle America, which is fine and largely inoffensive. Fanning is terrific, Sarandon hilarious, and Watts holds the whole thing together ably. It’s not an important movie, but the idea that every queer movie should be is ridiculous and too much to put on every new story.

Rebecca Miller is a wonderful director, having lined up Personal Velocity, the PEI-shot The Ballad of Jack & Rose, and 2009’s nearly perfect The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. Maggie’s Plan is her best yet, starring the peerless Greta Gerwig as a woman who ends up having an affair with Ethan HawkeJulianne Moore, in an hilarious accent, is the jilted wife—and then wanting to give him back. (Good casting on the dude part.) Set in the world of New York academia, there’s an uppercrust vibe reminiscent of Noah Baumbach or Wes Anderson, but it’s funnier and feelier than either of those men can manage. It’s helped by a pair of top-notch leads—Gerwig dials down her regular daffiness so you take her seriously as a competitor, while Moore goes all the way out there; it’s so delightful—and a lovely detour of a setpiece in Quebec ski country. Maggie’s Plan will be out next year—it’s unmissable.

[img-3] It rained all day yesterday but it was worth standing in line for Janis, the first real documentary about Janis Joplin. Directed by Amy Berg, it unearths Joplin’s letters (read by Cat Power, who helped intro the film at the premiere but did not, to my knowledge, put on any surprise shows while in the GTA) and finds her to be a tortured, lonely soul, even worse than you thought. Coming on the heels of Amy it hurts even more, another story about a self-destructive addict who couldn’t keep the wrong people out of her life. My personal experience was heightened by the woman next to me, who sang passionately, Jenna Maroney-like, to every song.

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