The 25th Annual Hot Docs Film Festival
"I Used to be Normal": A Boyband Fangirl Story
Directed by Jessica Leski
An erratic yet rewarding documentary, "I Used to be Normal": A Boyband Fangirl Story details the somewhat obsessive exploits of several ardent followers of men-only groups like One Direction, Backstreet Boys, and The Beatles. Filmmaker Jessica Leski has infused the proceedings with an affable vibe that is, at the outset, perhaps a little too lighthearted and one-note for its own good, as much of "I Used to be Normal": A Boyband Fangirl Story's first half is devoted to the various subjects' decidedly fervent interests and collections - with, for example, Leski delivering a sequence in which one individual reads from a piece of boy band fan fiction. (It's cute enough, certainly, but at a certain point one begins to crave a little meaningfulness.) The movie does improve steadily as it progresses, however, as Leski begins infusing the picture with instances of much-needed depth and substance - with, especially, everything involving One Direction superfan Elif and her various personal problems, including ongoing issues with her far-too-strict parents, ensuring that "I Used to be Normal": A Boyband Fangirl Story's latter stretch is far more engaging and emotionally resonant than one might've anticipated. Leski ultimately deserves credit for eliciting genuinely heartwrenching tales from several of her subjects, and it's clear, in the end, that the movie would've worked equally well as a full-length portrait of the aforementioned One Direction superfan (but it's certainly a shame Leski wasn't able to secure on-camera interviews with her seemingly iron-fisted folks).
Directed by Cameron Yates
Chef Flynn follows Flynn McGarry, a teenager with prodigious cooking skills, as he begins serving complex dishes to guests at home and eventually becomes an internationally-renowned superstar, with the movie detailing Flynn's attempts at coping with the massive media attention and the ongoing concerns of his ever-present mother. Filmmaker Cameron Yates admittedly gets Chef Flynn off to a somewhat rough start, as the director initially stresses low-quality home-movie footage (complete with hollow, hard-to-decipher sound) that lends the picture an intimate yet undeniably amateurish feel. It's clear, then, that the movie improves considerably as it progresses, with the inherently compelling nature of the material, enhanced by irresistible behind-the-scenes footage of Flynn at work, certainly perpetuating the increasingly watchable atmosphere. (The continual emphasis on the exploits of Flynn's filmmaker mother rarely fares well and seems to have been included merely to pad out the running time, ultimately.) The latter half of Chef Flynn boasts a handful of unexpectedly engrossing moments, including an impressively tense sequence in which Flynn prepares for and executes an opening-night meal, and it's clear, finally, that the film stands as a compelling portrait of a fairly fascinating figure. (It's just a shame, though, that Yates didn't include a postscript about the status of Flynn's own restaurant he was preparing to open.)
Directed by Jean-Simon Chartier
Playing Hard details the inception and eventual creation of a video game called For Honor, with the movie specifically focused on the veteran game designer, Jason VandenBerghe, behind the entire project. Filmmaker Jean-Simon Chartier takes a big-picture approach to the material that's initially quite interesting, as Playing Hard, at the outset, explores the creation of a highly-ambitious video game from the perspective of a relative outsider (ie VandenBerghe is a newcomer to Ubisoft, the studio behind the game, as the movie begins). It's not long, unfortunately, before Chartier's cursory approach to the material grows tiresome, as the film's absence of nitty-gritty details into For Honor's production results in a progressively (and frustratingly) superficial vibe - with Chartier's decision to stress VandenBerghe's exploits ultimately exacerbating the movie's various problems. (VandenBerghe is an interesting figure, certainly, but Chartier's inability to wholeheartedly discern what makes him tick proves rather disastrous.) The movie's missed-opportunity feel is highlighted by a series of sequences that could (and should) have been better, with, especially, the buildup to VandenBerghe and company's presentation at a pivotal video game convention lacking the suspense and tension one might've anticipated. It's apparent, too, that the film's partially watchable vibe goes out the window in its second half, as Chartier has infused this portion of the proceedings with a meandering sensibility exacerbated by unanswered questions surrounding VandenBerghe (ie the designer walks away from the project upset and disillusioned for reasons never entirely made clear) - which finally does confirm Playing Hard's place as a promising doc that slowly-but-surely sinks into distressing irrelevance.