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Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #2

James White
Directed by Josh Mond

James White casts Christopher Abbott as the title character, a lazy, self-destructive deadbeat who's forced to straighten up and fly right after his mother's (Cynthia Nixon's Gail) health takes a turn for the worse - with the movie, for the most part, detailing James' ongoing efforts at both caring for his mother and turning his life around. It's a familiar storyline that is, for the most part, employed to disappointingly run-of-the-mill effect by first-time director Josh Mond, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with many of the elements one has come to expect from movies of this ilk - including jittery handheld camerawork and an aimless, episodic narrative. There's little doubt, then, that James White benefits substantially from Christopher Abbott's mesmerizing performance, with the actor slipping into the shoes of his hotheaded character to a degree that's nothing short of electrifying. (This is particularly true in the movie's early goings, as Mond offers up a few sequences in which James loses his temper to spectacular effect.) The viewer's interest begins to dwindle steadily starting at around the halfway mark, however, with the progressively repetitive atmosphere paving the way for a final half hour that becomes far more tedious than one might've anticipated. James White's bleak climactic stretch consequently doesn't pack the emotional punch that Mond has clearly intended, and it ultimately does seem as though the writer/director simply didn't have enough material to justify a full-length feature.

out of

Directed by Julie Delpy

An almost excessively familiar romantic comedy, Lolo follows frustrated fortysomething Violette (Julie Delpy) as she meets and falls for a computer programmer named Jean-René (Dany Boon) - with complications ensuing as Violette's son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste), embarks on a campaign to break the new couple up. Director Delpy, along with coscreenwriter Eugénie Grandval, has infused the early part of Lolo with virtually all of the cliches and tropes that one has come to expect from the romcom genre, including Violette and Jean-René's initial meet-cute and, of course, their eventual fake break-up - and yet, despite this and also a dearth of laughs, the picture admittedly does possess a certain charm that's perpetuated by Delpy and Boon's chemistry together. It's clear, then, that Lolo begins its sharp nosedive into irrelevance as it progresses into its increasingly tedious midsection, as Delpy places a growing emphasis on the title character's eye-rollingly juvenile efforts at sabotaging his mother's relationship - with the repetitive nature of such scenes ensuring that one's interest slowly-but-surely dwindles down to non-existence. Lolo's antics, which become more and more sinister as the story unfolds, generally feel completely out of place within the world Delpy has established and ultimately seem as though they'd be more at home in a thriller, which is too bad, really, given that Delpy has included a number of unexpectedly trenchant comments on modern relationships. (There is, for example, a hilarious sequence involving a series of panicked texts that rings incredibly true.) And although Delpy attempts to explain away Lolo's behavior in the movie's climactic stretch, Lolo has long-since established itself as a disappointingly misbegotten endeavor by that point.

out of

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Based on Emma Donoghue's engrossing novel, Room details the exploits of a young woman (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) - with the two characters having spent the last several years locked up in a single room by a blandly evil abductor (Sean Bridgers). It's grim, bleak subject matter that's handled with an appropriately somber hand by director Lenny Abrahamson, as the filmmaker does a superb job of initially establishing both the title locale and the relationship between Larson and Tremblay's respective characters - with the performers' top-notch work going a long way towards heightening the movie's compelling atmosphere. (As strong as Tremblay is here, Larson, who inhabits her broken character to a degree that's nothing short of astonishing, ultimately walks away with the title of M.V.P.) And although the narrative often threatens to grow irredeemably repetitive - the premise guarantees that this is a continuing issue - Room is punctuated with a series of captivating sequences that effectively elevate the proceedings on a regular basis. (This is especially true of an interlude involving a ride aboard a truck, with the scene boasting an almost unbearably edge-of-your-seat vibe.) The film's second half becomes an altogether different animal, however, as scripter Donoghue slowly-but-surely transforms Room into a deliberately paced and extremely subdued drama - with the shift faring rather well due primarily to the increasingly sympathetic nature of the two protagonists (ie it's difficult not to become incredibly wrapped up in their fates). Room ultimately isn't always the easiest picture to sit through, and yet it's difficult to recall a more successful book-to-film adaptation.

out of

I Smile Back
Directed by Adam Salky

Featuring a fantastic performance in search of a compelling narrative, I Smile Back, which details the exploits of a depressive, drug-addicted mother of two (Sarah Silverman's Laney Brooks), predominantly comes off as a fairly generic drama that never remotely manages to transcend its almost cookie-cutter storyline - which is a shame, certainly, given that Silverman's work here is much, much better than one had any right to expect. The most obvious problem, aside from director Adam Salky's less-than-cinematic visual choices, is the screenplay's inability to wholeheartedly get into the central character's head, as scripters Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan take a superficial approach that leaves too many of Laney's personality traits unexplained (ie it's hinted that she might have mental issues, but that goes woefully unexplored). It is, as such, virtually impossible to work up any real sympathy for the protagonist's plight, which ensures that there are few points wherein the viewer is wholeheartedly engaged by the by-the-numbers material. (Exceptions to this, including a strong scene detailing Laney's visit with her estranged father, are few and far between moments that are almost excessively familiar.) In the end, I Smile Back plays like a vanity-project bankrolled entirely by Silverman, as the film is, generally speaking, devoid of intriguing elements aside from the comedian-turned-actress' admittedly striking turn.

out of

Directed by Anne Sewitsky

Homesick is an almost aggressively slow-paced drama revolving around a twentysomething teacher named Charlotte (Ine Wilmann), with the narrative, for the most part, detailing Charlotte's initial attempts to get to know her half-brother (Simon J. Berger's Henrik) and, eventually, the decidedly less-than-savory relationship that forms between the pair. Filmmaker Anne Sewitsky does a nice job at the movie's outset of establishing the central character and the details of her day-to-day existence, although it's clear even in this promising portion of the proceedings that Sewitsky pushes the deliberate pacing to an egregious extent. (There are, for example, far too many sequences of Charlotte going through her everyday routines.) There's little doubt, then, that it's Sewitsky's meandering sensibilities that ultimately lead to Homesick's downfall, as the aimless atmosphere results in a distinct lack of dramatic tension that grows more and more problematic as time slowly progresses. Sewitsky's refusal (or inability) to effectively explain away the various characters' behavior is regrettable, to say the least, and the viewer can't help but wonder why, for example, Charlotte's best friend abruptly decides to pull away. And while the performances are all incredibly strong - star Wilmann is especially good here - Homesick's arms-length vibe finally ensures that its final stretch doesn't possess even a fraction of the emotional resonance that Sewitsky is clearly aiming for (ie it's difficult to recall a movie that peters out quite so aggressively).

out of

© David Nusair