For journalists, the Toronto International Film Festival is a heady 11-day stew of screenings, interviews and alcohol-soaked after-parties. Throughout this week and the next, I’ll be delivering daily updates on every aspect of this year’s monstrous festival (free booze not included—sorry).
The films: While I was able to gorge on screenings the first few days of the festival (more, more, more!), Sunday brought an onslaught of responsibilities—four interviews and plus two parties—that made the chances of actually catching a film slim. Yet I was pleasantly surprised when circumstances (thanks, cancelled interview of filmmaker I won’t name!) proved otherwise, opening up an early morning scheduling hole.
What I chose to do with that extra time, though, proved to be a mistake, as I caught the press and industry premiere of You Are Here. Surely the feature debut of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner would prove fascinating, right? And any cast that included comedy heavyweights Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler couldn’t be all that bad, yes? Well, no. And no. The oddball dramedy, which focuses on a ne’er-do-well TV weatherman (Wilson) and his even more ne’er-do-well best friend (Galifinakis), proved to be both a bore and puzzle. Plot threads were dropped and picked up at random, Poehler’s seemingly crucial character disappeared for the entire second act and Wilson struggled mightily to deliver some of the script’s more barbed lines. Don Draper would not approve.
Later in the day was more fortuitous, though, as We Gotta Get Out of This Place proved to be a stellar slow burn. The Texas-baked thriller, focusing on the complicated and dangerous relationship between two best friends and the girl they both love, has a distinct late-’70s pulp aesthetic, and seems destined to play for decades at such esteemed cinemas as Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse. Mark Pelligrino (best known as the god-like Jacob on Lost) also excels as a sweaty psychopath. Although the theatre was barely three-quarters full—somewhat of a TIFF rarity for a public screening—those who were there rightfully awarded first-time directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins with enthusiastic applause.
The talent: Sunday was a bonanza of interviews, starting with a breakfast chat between Jesse Eisenberg and Richard Ayoade, star and director, respectively, of The Double, a darkly hilarious update of Dostoevsky’s famed novella. While Eisenberg had to brave a few overeager fans—”my whole life is a festival,” the star deadpanned after being approached at the InterContinental Hotel’s restaurant —he quickly loosened up when talking about what drew him to the film, which finds him playing a meek office worker who encounters his doppelganger, an extrovert who quickly usurps his life.
“I thought [Ayoade’s first film] Submarine was incredible, and watching it you could tell that the way Richard directs actors, it’s all very specific and funny, but without compromising what’s emotionally realistic about it,” said Eisenberg. “When I read the script, I knew it would offer an interesting opportunity to play against myself, like some eccentric acting class.”
Ayoade, meanwhile, talked about anything and everything, from the Star Wars sequels to regrouping his Submarine cast, many of whom have cameos in The Double. “It wasn’t like I was using them as a safety blanket,” Ayoade said of Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins. “They were all just really good, and I was fortunate to get them free for a few days.”
Added Eisenberg: “Richard is the only director they would do one line in a movie for. Every actor who comes on set, irrespective of the size or the emotional depth of the role, is given the most creative space to act and do something interesting.” And with that, the star closed the interview by offering me a cinnamon-flavoured toothpick he picked up at a gifting lounge. I guess we’re best friends now.
Just a few hours later, once again in the InterContinental’s sterile and celeb-choked environs (Mads Mikkelsen in one corner, Atom Egoyan in the next!) I sat down with the creative team behind The Husband, director Bruce McDonald and star/co-writer Maxwell McCabe-Lokos. With McDonald wearing his signature cowboy hat and McCabe-Lokos nursing a beer, the pair talked at length about their dark drama, which explores a husband’s impotent rage after finding out his schoolteacher wife embarked on an affair with her younger male student.
“What I liked most about [the script] was that it was about ordinary people,” said McDonald, a longtime TIFF guest. “It wasn’t about cops with super powers or drug dealers or rock ‘n’ roll musicians, it was just people you live amongst.” Yet that last bit may be slightly disingenuous, as McCabe-Lokos is actually a former rock ‘n’ roller who used to lead the Toronto band The Deadly Snakes.
Still, the actor, who described the script as a “make-work” project that he nursed for five years before filming, reiterates that the key to the movie’s narrative is that it mirrors the problems of any everyday couple. “I wanted to have the story be simply about people that you might know, couples with familiar relationships,” says the actor, whose nervy energy and world-weary eyes recall a younger Steve Buscemi. “[My character] isn’t based on me personally, but people I know. I feel it’s like what would happen to me, though, if my wife cheated on me.”
Once McDonald and McCabe-Lokos finished discussing potential after-parties for the film (Queen West-ish, most likely), it was a quick sprint over to the Trump Hotel, where Liza Johnson graciously dissected her latest film, the Kristen Wiig-starring Hateship Loveship. While discussing the too-perfect casting—in which Wiig plays a lonely housekeeper and caregiver who gets a new start in life with the most unlikely of men (Guy Pearce)—Johnson rhapsodized about her star’s careful approach to inhabiting a role.
“Kristen makes things visible that are normally inarticulate—you can see inside her mind,” says Johnson, who stacked her adaptation of an Alice Munro story with Nick Nolte, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Hailee Steinfeld. “The characters in this film don’t say what they mean, and in cinema there has to be a way to make that legible, and Kristen, both in comedy and in drama, is really excellent at making things readable, either through behaviour or gestures. She makes it all visible.”
(Click here for a full interview with Liza Johnson, and here for a complete feature on Richard Ayoade and Jesse Eisenberg.)
The parties: Ditching the “hip” (or so the kids tell me) environs of Soho House for the evening, I instead ventured to two entirely different social circles, both of which proved to be their own kind of unique adventure. First up was the amfAR Inspiration Gala, a swishy and swanky black-tie affair (which was good, since the one tie I own is black…OK, I have another that’s blue—dark blue). Although not a TIFF party per se, the Foundation for AIDS Research traditionally uses the festival week to rope in visiting movie stars and local high-rollers.
Hosted by Broadway everyman Alan Cumming, with a speech from event chair Hilary Swank and a performance by British rock band The Gossip, the party had star power to spare, so much so that guests barely registered the likes of Adrien Brody and Paul Haggis in the Carlu crowd. Yet there was something slightly off about the sit-down dinner, with its ultra-formal structure and air of old money—or maybe I’m just not used to catered affairs where there’s not a bar mitzvah boy present. Either way, it all winded down by 10 p.m., with the cool kids immediately leaving for King Street’s various soirees.
Still, it was the fanciest party I’ll ever likely be invited to, with svelte male models strutting around in Marc Jacobs suits before dinner and a live auction fetching thousands of dollars for AIDS research. If I had $22,000 to spare, I surely would have bid on the curiously named “Alan Cumming’s Underground Safari” package, which sounds like something Saturday Night Live‘s Stefon might plan.
After The Gossip’s Beth Ditto played her heart out (why is she not more famous, again?), it was time to move on to something completely different: the Festival Music House at Adelaide Hall. Conceived by TIFF and Arts & Crafts Records as a showcase for local talent—should visiting producers be tempted to add a few songs to upcoming soundtracks—the two-storey venue was populated with hot and sticky industry insiders wearing ripped jeans and TIFF lanyards (sorry, members of the general public: like much of this festival, this event was off-limits to outsiders).
With an open bar and enough space to dance, the event achieved that rare balance of intimacy and intensity, especially when Diamond Rings, Toronto’s answer to Ziggy Stardust, took to the stage at about 11 p.m. Powering his way through a blistering and sweaty 45-minute set, John O’Regan’s alter ego brought the crowd to their knees, and unleashed some long-bottled tension that comes with sitting in the dark for 10 hours a day. Someone get that man a soundtrack deal. Or, at the very least, a fresh shirt.