Your Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) daily for September 19th… although the festival screened its last film last night. Another TIFF wrapped up!
On Friday night, Jennifer Hudson’s long-awaited Winnie Mandela biopic, Winnie, premiered at TIFF; it also screened a second time on Saturday. Reactions? As suspected, given the trailer we all saw, not very good, unfortunately.
First, from The Hollywood Reporter:
Solid performances are undercut by lack of storytelling integrity in this plodding biopic.There are rich dramatic possibilities in the conflicted choices here, but in striving to inflate the tragic love story, Roodt’s film whitewashes too many moral issues, sacrificing nuance and complexity. Hudson, in particular, deserves better. Her one-on-one scenes with Howard have pathos, but as Winnie’s actions grow more questionable, the film can’t decide whether she’s a martyr or a pariah, and the performance doesn’t answer that question. Without insightful dialogue, Hudson’s expressions of uncompromising defiance, wounded dignity or booze-soaked bitterness veer into cliché. And both Hudson and Howard are done no favors by ropey latex work as their characters age. Some imposing locations aside, the most distinguishing visual aspect is the excessive period detail in Pierre Vienings’ costumes; the 1950s and ‘60s scenes, in particular, are awash in fussy design statements, with more hats than a Philip Treacy showroom. Even later on, it’s hard to feel much as Winnie steps through the charred rubble of her burnt-out house when you’re busy taking in the shimmering aquamarine caftan she’s somehow rescued. The Toronto premiere carried a disclaimer indicating that sound and image quality are not final, and end credits were not yet in place. (A turgid Diane Warren power ballad sung by Hudson played over a black screen.) But technical finessing is not going to change much for a film far too antiquated in its approach to epic storytelling, which makes it less likely to work on big screens than as a prestige women’s television event.
With a title that boasts a level of intimacy this biopic simply doesn’t possess, “Winnie” tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s wife and co-crusader in broad, black-and-white terms, drawing public criticism from its outspoken subject. Premiering in rough form at the Toronto Film Festival, “Cry the Beloved Country” director Darren James Roodt’s TV-style treatment reduces South Africa’s struggle to the status of an impediment in the blooming romance between life-imprisoned Mandela (Terrence Howard) and his strong-willed partner (Jennifer Hudson), who kept step, only backwards and in heels. Decently acted despite screenplay shortcomings, pic is best suited for femme-friendly cable. The film acknowledges but doesn’t quite know how to handle Winnie’s disgrace, with Hudson’s turn taking a sinister edge as she becomes godmother to a gang of soccer thugs. These later scenes are compromised by stunningly awful makeup effects that lend Howard and Hudson a distracting rubbery look. Otherwise, the production values are reasonably good, judging by the low-resolution print screened in Toronto.
There was one nod, from Elle Canada:
Howard is magnetic on screen as the former South African President silencing and moving the audience with speeches taken directly from history. Playing opposite him in the film’s title role is Jennifer Hudson, as his wife Winne Mandela. Together, the two capture a monumental period in world history, dramatizing events with care and precision, creating a heartfelt picture of Nelson and Winnie Mandela never seen before. Most Sentimental Moment of the Evening: The closing song of Winnie performed by Jennifer Hudson heard through the sound of sniffles in an otherwise silent theatre.
There might be others like that; but judging from the film’s Facebook page, which has seemingly taken to posting only the positive write-ups of the film since its Toronto premiere, there probably aren’t many; or likely not enough to match the number of negatives, and I’ve read a few of those.
All that said, I still want to see it for myself, and hopefully I’ll get my chance to do so.
If any of our readers were present for either of the TIFF screenings, do chime in.