Toronto International Film Festival 2013 correspondent Jeff Meyers continues his screening diary in this installment, covering screenings of Like Father, Like Son, Le Week-end, Labor Day and 12 Years a Slave.
I decided to let Day Two cleanse my embittered palette with more upbeat… or, at least, less depressing film choices.
Walking along King St. I can’t help but think how this year’s festival campaign doesn’t have quite the creative oomph that was on display in previous years. 2012’s banners riffed on clever texting conceits and alliterations. The posters read: “Where LOL meets WTF?” or “Where popcorn meets pate.”
This year features a series of 3/4 portraits, supposedly festival-goers, given monikers like “The Cineaste” or “The Chronic Tweeter” or some such nonsense. Unfortunately, it feels like half an idea. The images don’t really complement or juxtapose the titles to humorous or ironic effect so they’re hard to distinguish from one another and too easy to ignore.
But I’m not in marketing, so what do I know? Five seasons of watching Mad Men and suddenly I’m the expert. Still, I get the sneaking suspicion that Don Draper would not approve.
Like Father, Like Son
For Americans unfamiliar with the films of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda (After Life, Still Walking), his latest film Like Father, Like Son (winner of the 2013 Cannes Jury Prize) is a perfect entry point. Not because it’s his best work. It isn’t. But because this patient and astute filmmaker takes a Hollywood-style premise and fills it with well-observed wit, knowing compassion, and emotional nuance. Two couples, one affluent and the other working-class, learn that their six year-old sons were switched at birth. In a nation where blood ties, pride and honor have great meaning, the families struggle to decide whether to keep the child they have or retrieve the child they gave birth to. To say there were sniffles in the audience would be an understatement. And it’s Kore-Eda’s approach that earns those tears. Confident in his ability to capture the quiet, yet devastating, consequences of his character’s decisions, he refrains from making judgments, letting his cast’s naturalistic performances to sell his sometimes superficial exploration of family dynamics. It also helps that he’s cast what may be the cutest little boy in all of Japan.
All hail Jim Broadbent. He is an actor who is worth his weight in gold. How else to explain my affection for this prickly yet formless exercise in domestic reassessment? Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play a British couple escaping to Paris for the weekend in order to celebrate their 30th anniversary. What ensues is a whole lot of bickering, reminiscing, and marital reevaluation. Think of it as British boomer take on Richard Linklater’s Before (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) trilogy – but not nearly as satisfying, improvisational or naturalistic. Penned by playwright Hanif Kureishi, the script bounces from verbally witty and emotionally insightful to narratively turgid and overwritten, and back again. The plotting, when it decides to rear its head, comes off as schematic (a boffo third act monologue once again saves the relationship!) but Broadbent and Duncan give such a wonderfully lived-in performance that it’s easy to forgive the movie’s missteps. And thank goodness for Jeff Goldblum who, just when things start to putter, caffeinates the proceedings with his turn as a smug yet charmingly charismatic old friend. See it with your Auntie and you’re bound to score points.
Pet Peeve time. There are few things dramatically cheaper than a director who withholds important information about a character – usually via flashback – for no other reason than to tease the audience. That’s exactly what Jason Reitman does in his melodrama about an on-the-run convict (Josh Brolin) who takes a depressed mother (Kate Winslet) and her son (Gattlin Griffith) hostage in their home. See, Brolin isn’t really a bad guy and, of course, his impact on this damaged family ends up being positive. But he’s got a dark past… which is only finally revealed when… well, the movie starts to wrap things up. There’s never a dramatic or narrative reason we’re denied the full flashback, it just comes when Reitman feels like it’d make the most impact. Sorry, that’s just shoddy story-telling.
Otherwise this earnest adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel mostly avoids the cornball pitfalls that are strewn across its path. The cast is, as you might expect, first rate, and does a great job of keeping us engaged with characters that. Reitman pulls things in to give his movie a sense of time and place, constructing a believable world for the kind of story we’ve seen many times before (Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World immediately comes to mind). Only the ending derails into sentimental claptrap, dispelling the understated honesty that kept the whole clichéd boat afloat.
12 Years a Slave
Intense. Uncompromising. Powerful. I have to take a day to digest this one before throwing up a review.
I caught the premiere and Steve McQueen and his cast were all there (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard and the amazing Lupita Nyong’o) filling the stage from one end to the other. It was clear that the film was a labor of love for all involved but almost everyone who spoke struggled to give interesting answers to the softball questions tossed their way. It’s understandable. Given the topic and nature of the film, questions like “What was it like to work with such a great cast?” don’t exactly invite profound reflection. What mostly came across was that everyone involved felt they were creating something important. And, to be honest, they did. Slavery has gotten shockingly little treatment as a subject in Hollywood. Indeed the best quote of the night came from Brad Pitt who said, “The question is: why have there been so few American films about slavery. And, of course, it took a Brit to ask it.”
I’ll lead off tomorrow’s diary with my review.
What I Learned Waiting In Line
Buzz: Philomena, The Double, The Dallas Buyers Club
Bummers: All Cheerleaders Die, Hateship/Loveship
Useless Facts: People had been camping out all day akong the closed-off block of King St, outside the Princess Of Wales Theater, waiting to catch of glimpse of Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. Both gave out autographs to the screams of hundreds. Attempting to cross King St at the time could take up to 30 minutes. Yikes! Hope no pizzas or babies needed to be delivered.
People I Met In Line: A documentary film distributor (he handled Restrepo and Forks Over Knives), a 17 year-old producer from Michigan, an agent from William Morris who represented editors, production designers and the like… and a long-time patron of the festival. MM