Toronto International Film Festival 2011 - UPDATE #3
My Worst Nightmare
Directed by Anne Fontaine
FRANCE/BELGIUM/99 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Directed by Anne Fontaine, My Worst Nightmare follows Isabelle Huppert's Agathe as she's forced to contend with the distracting antics of a loudmouthed boor ( Benoît Poelvoorde's Patrick) - with Patrick's arrival ultimately affecting the lives of everyone around him. Filmmaker Fontaine does a superb job of infusing the early part of My Worst Nightmare with a lighthearted, fast-paced feel that proves impossible to resist, with the unexpectedly conventional atmosphere heightened by the charismatic work from the various stars. (Even Huppert fares well here; the actress' notoriously icy persona acts as a perfect counterpoint to Poelvoorde's easygoing demeanor.) The pervasively comedic vibe is perpetuated by Poelvoorde's often hilarious turn as Patrick, as the actor does a superb job of infusing even the simplest of lines with an appropriately over-the-top panache (eg after being rebuffed by a pretty social worker, Patrick remarks that "if a girl's IQ is over 80, my charm stops working.") The affable atmosphere persists right up until about the halfway mark, after which point the movie undergoes a weird tonal shift as Fontaine begins emphasizing the melodramatic comings and goings of the characters (eg Agathe's son is expelled, her husband begins having an affair, etc). The film's transformation into a typically French drama revolving around infidelity is jarring, to say the least, and there's little doubt that the movie peters out significantly as it limps towards its entirely anti-climactic finale. Fontaine's oddly schizophrenic sensibilities are especially disappointing given how positively the movie fares in its early stages, with the end result a terminally uneven piece of work that will leave most viewers flummoxed and frustrated.
A Funny Man
Directed by Martin P. Zandvliet
DENMARK/109 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
An uncommonly interminable piece of work, A Funny Man charts the life and times of Danish comedian Dirch Passer (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) - with the film following the character through his successful early days as a Vaudeville-like performer through to his efforts at branching out into more dramatic roles. Filmmaker Martin P. Zandvliet opens A Funny Man with a great deal of premise, as the movie boasts a striking pre-credits sequence in which Dirch chats with his young daughter at an outdoor cafe. From there, Zandvliet slowly-but-surely loses his grip on the viewer by offering up a stagnant narrative that never really goes anywhere interesting or compelling. It is, as such, clear that A Funny Man owes its early success entirely to the strength of Kaas' performance, as the actor becomes this self-loathing figure to a degree that's often nothing less than astonishing. The far-than-enthralling atmosphere - which is compounded by the prolonged peeks at Dirch's act (which is nothing short of awful) - ultimately becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, as the movie inevitably morphs from a relatively watchable piece of work to an almost unbelievably tedious (and frequently endless) character study. And although there are a few decent sequences sprinkled here and there (eg Dirch's failed efforts at stepping into the role of Lennie in a production of Of Mice and Men), A Funny Man is, in the final analysis, a consistently misguided endeavor that wears out its welcome long before it reaches its head-scratching finale.
Think of Me
Directed by Bryan Wizemann
USA/103 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Think of Me follows Lauren Ambrose's Angela as she attempts to make a life for herself and her young daughter (Audrey P. Scott's Sunny), with Angela's ongoing struggles complicated by a variety of outside forces (including a suspiciously helpful coworker played by Dylan Baker). There's little doubt that Think of Me, for the most part, comes off as a typically subdued character study, with Ambrose's gritty, consistently captivating performance initially compensating for the expected lack of plot and narrative thrust. Ambrose, along with her young costar, brings a fair amount of authenticity that does, at the outset, alleviate the deficiencies within Wizemann's screenplay, and it's interesting to note that Ambrose's Angela actually becomes more and more unlikable as the film progresses (ie Angela generally goes out of her way to make her life a whole lot more difficult than it needs to be). There inevitably does reach a point, however, at which the thin storyline's lack of surprises becomes an insurmountable obstacle, with the overly familiar atmosphere ultimately exacerbated by plot developments of a decidedly questionable nature. By the time the neat, incongruously uplifting conclusion rolls around, Think of Me has undoubtedly established itself as a lackluster drama that simply isn't able to separate itself from its thematically similar brethren.
Where Do We Go Now?
Directed by Nadine Labaki
FRANCE/LEBANON/ITALY/EGYPT/100 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
The latest effort from Nadine Labaki, the Arab world's answer to Nia Vardalos, Where Do We Go Now? details the happenings within a small Middle Eastern community over the course of a few especially eventful weeks - as Labaki focuses on the religious differences between the various residents and the strife that ensues as a result. Labaki, who also appears in the film, has infused Where Do We Go Now? with a pervasively lighthearted vibe that initially holds some promise, with the easygoing atmosphere heightened by the inclusion of an unexpected musical number about ten minutes in. It becomes clear awfully quickly, though, that Labaki is completely out of her depth here, as the filmmaker proves utterly and hopelessly unable to offer up even a single compelling character - which ultimately proves as disastrous as one might've feared (ie a character's sudden death midway through elicits pure apathy from the viewer, since this figure hasn't been developed in the slightest). Far more troublesome is Labaki's reliance on unreasonably silly instances of comedy (eg a character pretends to chat with the Virgin Mary in an effort at teaching her fellow denizens an important lesson), with the pervasively inauthentic atmosphere ensuring that the dramatic stuff that crops up on an increasingly frequent basis falls completely and utterly flat. (Most of such moments are just unreasonably melodramatic and heavy-handed in their execution, with Labaki's decision to elicit uncomfortably histrionic performances from her actors cementing the film's transformation into a seriously interminable piece of work.) Labaki's less-than-subtle sensibilities are never more obvious or problematic than in the movie's third-act twist, and it's finally obvious that the filmmaker's persistent speechifying will turn off even those viewers with an inherent sympathy for the problems in the Middle East. The end result is an ambitious misfire that simply doesn't work in the slightest, as Labaki lacks the subtlety required to seamlessly incorporate the film's admirable message into the proceedings.
Directed by Jonathan Levine
USA/99 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Directed by Jonathan Levine, 50/50 follows affable editor Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he learns that he has cancer and begins the slow process of battling the deadly disease - with the film focused primarily on Adam's relationships with the various people in his life. Though it remains completely watchable from start to finish, 50/50 boasts a relatively disappointing opening half hour that oftentimes feels like a glorified sitcom. This is never more evident than in Adam's dealings with his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard's Rachael), as the relationship simply isn't convincing in the slightest and does feel as though it'd be more at home within a garden-variety romcom (ie could she possibly be any more wrong for him?) It's Gordon-Levitt's consistently captivating performance that initially compensates for the periodically hackneyed atmosphere, as the actor flawlessly and effortlessly steps into the shoes of the sympathetic protagonist with an ease that's nothing short of hypnotic. (Seth Rogen, cast as Adam's affable best buddy, is far more compelling and hilarious here than he's been elsewhere in quite some time.) The inherently engaging premise does ensure that 50/50 grows more and more compelling as it progresses, with the increased inclusion of heartwrenching sequences playing an instrumental role in cementing the movie's transformation from passable to engrossing. By the time the unexpectedly emotional third act rolls around, 50/50 has undoubtedly confirmed its place as an above average piece of work that brilliantly manages to blend big laughs with high drama.
Omar Killed Me
Directed by Roschdy Zem
FRANCE/85 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Inspired by true events, Omar Killed Me follows the title character (Sami Bouajila's Omar Raddad) as he's sent to prison for murdering his employer - with the film subsequently detailing both Omar's exploits and the ongoing efforts of a notorious crusader (Denis Podalydès' Pierre-Emmanuel Vaugrenard) at proving Omar's innocence. There's little doubt that the unusual narrative structure employed by scripters Olivier Gorce and Roschdy Zem does take some getting used to, as Omar Killed Me unfolds in two separate time periods - with Omar's activities occurring a few years before Pierre-Emmanuel's investigation. The inherently compelling nature of the movie's premise does prove instrumental in initially capturing one's interest, however, and there's ultimately little doubt that Omar Killed Me fares best in its comparatively fresh opening half hour. It's only as the movie progresses that the viewer's interest begins to wane, with the continuing emphasis on Pierre-Emmanuel's increasingly tedious investigation triggering the movie's downfall. The pervasively routine atmosphere - this does, after all, resemble a garden-variety police procedural at times - effectively diminishes the strength of the prison scenes, and it's worth noting, too, that the story's true-life origins contribute heavily to the film's underwhelming, strangely flat sensibilities (ie would there even be a movie if Omar hadn't been released from prison?) It's finally impossible to label Omar Killed Me as anything more than a well-intentioned misfire, with the periodic inclusion of admittedly engrossing sequences (eg Omar's heartfelt encounter with his father) ensuring that the film never quite becomes the tedious endeavor one might've expected.
Directed by Rodrigo García
The latest effort from Rodrigo Garcia, Albert Nobbs follows the title character (Glenn Close), a turn-of-the-century woman who has spent years working as a male butler, as her orderly existence is threatened by the arrival of a scrappy newcomer (Aaron Johnson's Joe). There's little doubt that Albert Nobbs fares best in its opening half hour, as Garcia does a superb job of initially establishing this very specific time and place - with the inherently compelling atmosphere heightened by Close's consistently riveting performance. The actress effortlessly steps into her character's repressed shoes and transforms Nobbs into an undeniably fascinating figure, which is certainly no small feat given the relative paucity of dialogue that the character has been afforded. Garcia's obvious patience in telling this story does become increasingly problematic, however, with the movie's lack of narrative thrust never more evident than in its disappointingly stagnant midsection - as Garcia emphasizes the exploits of two relatively uninteresting figures (Johnson's Joe and Mia Wasikowska's Helen). The pervasively sedate atmosphere ultimately lends the proceedings an oppressive quality that renders its positive attributes moot, with the viewer's growing disinterest ensuring that the film is simply unable to pack the emotional punch that Garcia has clearly intended. The end result is nothing more than a showcase for Close's admittedly stirring performance, which is certainly disappointing given the strength of such past Garcia efforts as Nine Lives and Mother and Child.