My 2008 TIFF experience came to a premature halt yesterday when I woke up with what has now been determined as strep throat. Part of me is glad it waited until the intense first six days were over, but part of me is still pissed that I didn’t get to enjoy my ambitious Thursday-Saturday plan of making use of the free time to actually see some films. My goal was to see 12 overall, but instead I spent today and yesterday in bed catching up on two weeks of Mad Men, Gossip Girl and Project Runway, and my final TIFF number was a meager 6: Burn After Reading, Rachel Getting Married, Me and Orson Welles, Lymelife, Slumdog Millionaire and Paris, Not France. Now, I can make up for that at the New York Film Festival, which I’m off to in just a few days and where most of what I missed out on here is also playing. But still… Last year I saw 15.
Anyway, I want to try and feel useful in my medicated-n-pajamas state, so I’ll briefly go over my thoughts on my Big 6. I already discussed Reading and Rachel, both of which I enjoyed. Reading was a clever and (i think) intentionally meaningless meditation on the sometimes unreasonable search for meaning in film, and Rachel was a well-written, beautifully acted portrait of addiction and family dysfunction.
And I was surprised at how much I didn’t mind Paris, Not France. It was a bit flashy at times in some odd editing choices, and it didn’t exactly provide a Paris Hilton-revelation in any sense. But as I noted in yesterday’s indieWIRE dispatch, it was if anything an entertaining and occasionally quite intimate portrait of a pop culture phenomenon.
The two films at the festival I was most disappointed by were Richard Linklater‘s Welles and Deryk Martini‘s Lymelife.
Welles‘ core storyline – the rise of a young actor played by Zac Efron and his relationships with Orson Welles, and with an ambitious stage manager played by Claire Danes – is dull and conventional. A young man is taken under the wing of a challenging father-figure only to be disappointed? We’ve seen this time and time again, and Linklater doesn’t do much to realize it in any original form. Welles redeems itself mostly in the performance of Christian McKay as Orson himself, and in its thoughtful design and historic reaccount. But I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Efron’s casting – beyond his audience draw. I found his presence distracting and his performance lacking enough inspiration to make the audience forget that they were watching Zac Efron. Danes, too, as she tends to be in period roles, was irritating and over-the-top, and I got through most moments watching her by imagining her in a short red bob, a plaid shirt and overalls.
Lymelife also failed very much due to its unoriginality. Another tired narrative – very much in vein of The Ice Storm – finds two families on the verge of imploding, and explores the various inter-connections between members (a male teenager’s lust for the girl in the other family; affairs; mid-life crises; longing for the past; and, um, lyme disease). The film has its moments – mostly thanks to the Culkin brothers (Rory and Kieran style) – but its uneven tone and unrealized ambitions are too evident to overlook.
My favourite film at TIFF was Danny Boyle‘s Slumdog Millionaire. The story of how impoverished Indian teen, Jamal, who became a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” in an effort to win the affection his lifelong love, Latika. Jamal becomes a national sensation when he is accused of cheating on the show, and the film goes back to various moments in his often horrific childhood to show both how he knew the answers and more over, to explore his relationship with Latika and his troubled brother.
The film gently deals with a wide ranges of topics and themes – social mobility, Indian subcultures, the challenges of poverty, the relationship between siblings. It does so in a very sentimental manner, and at moments I sat nervously as it almost went too far, tugging aggressively at the audience’s heart. But that’s what a story like this is supposed to do. Its a melodrama, and its very affecting in this sense. I found myself totally involved in the world onscreen and trying hard to resist tears as the film work its way into a perfectly over the top finale. But its also an adventure. True to Boyle’s best work, the pace is fantastic and the film bursts with energy. Its a definitive crowd-pleaser, and I would not at all be surprised if it ends up getting nominated for Best Picture.