Buyers are lining up for the more commercial-looking movies on display at Toronto, from horror flicks The Raid and The Incident, about cooks left behind in an insane asylum, to relationship comedies Friends with Kids and The Oranges. Partners Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein, Ira & Abby) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) produced and co-star in Manhattan-set Friends with Kids, which Westfeldt also wrote and directed. Westfeldt approached Jake Kasdan to direct, but he and many others told her that this project was so personal that she should take the helm. She's a better filmmaker than she is a movie star; the sharply observed comedy about a group of friends, two married couples with kids and two single best friends who decide to have a baby together without romantic entanglement, would have been better served with Westfeldt in a supporting role, with the underutilized Kristen Wiig in the lead. The otherwise well-cast ensemble also includes Wiig's Bridesmaids co-stars Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, as well as Edward Burns and Megan Fox. But Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) emerges as a rising star, and the movie will find both distributor and audience.
I interviewed Westfeldt and Hamm in Cannes here. Review round-up is below.
Much less successful was The Oranges, a suburban male fantasy about two middle-aged couples and their two daughters who grow up across the street from each other. Post-college, one is still living at home (Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat), while the other breaks up with her useless boyfriend and turns to her friend's father for solace. Lonely and disengaged from their own families, the older man (House's Hugh Laurie) and the 20s babe (Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl) fall hard, oblivious to how it will wreck those around them. Reviews and clips below.
Following its pattern with The Wrestler, Fox Searchlight snapped up Steve McQueen's Shame for release before the end of the year–for not much money– on the basis of being able to manufacture some noise for Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan's powerful performances, as well as the film's full-frontal NC-17 sexual content. It's a smart play as long as they don't spend too much on this artfully controversial non-mainstream movie.
CBS Films, which has been struggling to make a mark at the box office with its own projects, is turning to acquisitions such as Lasse Hallstrom's mild-mannered cross-cultural drama Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which went over well here, starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas. CBS paid more than $4 million for North American rights.
The Zhang Yimou footage of the retitled Flowers of War left most distribs asking for more. It will cost a distrib to bank on Zhang's artistry in advance of seeing the entire $90 million movie, which will be complete in time for a December 16 opening in Asia. And the sellers don't yet know if China will submit the film for the Oscar–if they do, it could qualify with a week-long LA and NY booking in time for a Christian Bale Oscar campaign and 2012 release.
Friends with Kids
"Westfeldt puts an interesting twist on the parenting-and-marriage sub-genre by rethinking conventional notions of fidelity. She even goes so far as to examine why the convention exists in the first place. But ultimately her movie becomes lethargic, predictable, and bland despite the Westfeldts’ strong chemistry with co-star Adam Scott."
"The warmth of the group dynamic extends to the depiction of single life, love, marriage and parenthood in a romantic comedy that takes time to find its groove but steadily accumulates heart and humor,..The movie dawdles a little in nudging the central love story to its inevitable conclusion, but the relationships are drawn with integrity and the emotional conflicts grounded in honest character observation,..The script also benefits from nuanced consideration of the many ways in which having children changes adults’ lives, going beyond the standard comedy terrain of sleep deprivation, frazzled nerves and diaper disasters."
"It doesn’t settle on the generic archetypes that we’re use to, and feels more real than most of these type of movies. The dialogue and discussion is smart, and the story packs some nice slice-of-life moments of living in New York City. Interestingly, Friends With Kids could be set in an alternate Bridesmaids universe as the supporting cast is comprised from that film,..While the film turns much more series than the sis-rom-com that was Bridesmaids, it will be hard for you to dislike this film if you like the cast."
"The director and writers manage capably enough while the action sticks in light, sitcommy mode, but when it turns serious the movie runs out of juice. Its cathartic moments feel fabricated,..Helfer and Reiss push predictable buttons with their message that out of the messiest situations, fresh self-knowledge and serenity can sometimes be hatched. There’s enough generic feelgood stuff in the proudly nonjudgmental film’s themes of love and forgiveness to make undiscerning audiences believe they’re being fed something nutritious. And the holiday-season setting makes theatrical positioning a no-brainer. But a deluxe cast like this one deserves better."
"playing to huge laughs, this winning comedy overcomes some of its patchier elements to become a bonafide crowd pleaser,..What Reiss and Helfer do so well is sharply observe both the absurdity of the situation,.. [The cast] all equally rise to the occasion, to deliver the kind of full bodied genuine laughs that make you miss the next couple of lines of dialogue. It’s Meester who surprises the most,..The continually underrated Platt delivers a great turn,..Janney nearly steals the show as the guilt-tripping, snarking, manipulative mommy while Keener keeps a cage on crazy as Paige, trying to keep it together after being dumped for a much younger woman."
"With a chemistry-free romance, a sitcom sensibility and a soft, round cavity where its humanity might have been, The Oranges is an unpalatable confection whose sophomoric approach to its very adult subject is likely to leave some auds bewildered and others actively offended. Odd-coupling comedy, pairing the father of one suburban family with the daughter of another, boasts a name cast,..but Brit helmer Julian Farino's Stateside feature debut won't win him many allies,..It would be curious if the pic actually sparked some public discussion about the morality or lack thereof in the storyline, which is mirrored in the filmmaking. 'There are no rules,' Nina tells David as they're preparing to consummate their untidy romance. Well, there are in comedy, even if "The Oranges" ignores them."