Sony Picture Classics had a dinner tonight where the press got to hang out and eat rubber chicken with the talent from some of the company's movies showing here in Toronto. Which means I was chatting with a pleasant Chinese man and his interpreter for a minute or two before it dawned on me that I was talking to Wong Kar-wai. The Dardenne brothers ("Lorna's Silence") were there, as were filmmaking and offscreen partners Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, whose follow-up to "Half Nelson," the excellent minor-league baseball drama "Sugar," is at the festival.
Taking up one table were the cast and crew of "Rachel Getting Married": director Jonathan Demme, actors Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Bill Irwin, all in great, garrulous moods because A) their movie has been well-received in Toronto and B) it's good and they know it. It sounds like a carbon copy of last year's "Margot at the Wedding" (bitter pill returns home in time to spoil sister's nuptials), but where that film was small, pale, and poisonously acerbic (and appallingly funny, I thought), "Rachel" sprawls with music and forgiveness, extending gentle humanism and multi-culti chic to each of its characters.
In other words, it's a Jonathan Demme movie, and the first recognizable such animal in a number of years. (Anyone could have made the "The Manchurian Candidate" or "The Truth About Charlie".) The cast playing the dysfunctional Buckman family goes deep and wide: Hathaway mostly shorn of glamor (and a good amount of hair) as straight-out-of-rehab sister Kym, DeWitt smart and fierce as the title bride, Winger as their chilly mother, wonderful Irwin as their dad, an emotional golden retriever. Demme films it in strict Dogme style -- should we call it Degme now? Domme? -- with handheld camerawork that feels appropriate for once and music that only wells up when one of the wedding musicians in the house is playing. There's a lot of that music, though -- the film's detractors say too much, even if someone at the dinner told me Demme lopped off a few minutes in the last few weeks before the festival. Parts of "Rachel Getting Married" almost feel like a Demme concert film: Eccentro-rocker Robyn Hitchcock, reggae queen Sister Carol, and the director's own guitar-strumming son Brooklyn all figure in the final reception scenes. To me it works beautifully: The bile and recrimination of the early sequences are healed not by forced dialogue or psychological closure but by ecstatic communal boogie. By then it feels earned. But I'm biased: I love Robyn Hitchcock and Demme's other musical oddballs, and I love this movie, the most openhearted of its kind since "Monsoon Wedding."
I also loved "Happy-Go-Lucky" (photo, above) the latest from England's Mike Leigh ("Vera Drake"), even if the film's heroine Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is chipper enough to drive strong men to drink. The movie wonders whether anyone predisposed to finding joy in life -- such as goofball working-class London schoolteacher Poppy -- can function in the world without getting worn down to a nub. And lord knows people try, including her driving instructor, a monumentally tightly wound Captain Bringdown played by ubiquitous character actor Eddie Marsan ("Hancock"). Leigh sees in his heroine a rare state of grace, and Hawkins breathes a director's conceit into adorable/annoying life. If only he didn't gild the lily by making her a social-working saint in the bargain.
Possibly my least favorite movie at Toronto, by contrast, is "Good," which is not. Based on a stage play, it's set in WWII Germany and concerns a weak-willed, mild-mannered academic (Viggo Mortenson) who keeps cutting compromises with the Nazi party until he finds himself wearing a SS uniform at a concentration camp, stunned by the fact that Jews are actually being killed. This is a not unworthy subject -- how we can incrementally lose our souls through daily moral bargaining -- but director Vicente Amorim turns it into hamfisted Holocaust kitsch, complete with single tear running down the star's cheek at the end. Jason Isaacs is quite good as the hero's doomed Jewish friend, but Mortensen fights against his natural gifts (poise, silence, flawed strength) and loses. The funny thing is that I interviewed the actor a few days back during the "Appaloosa" publicity junket, and he urged me to see "Good," convinced of the film's worth and his own performance stretch. I didn't and don't doubt Mortensen's sincerity, but this is not a well-made film. Surprise: Even the most talented actors may not be the best judges of their own movies.
Quick takes: "Inju, The Beast in the Shadow" shows the storied French actor/director Barbet Schroeder ("Reversal of Fortune") crafting a nastily amusing meta-thriller about a French crime novelist (Benoit Magimel) who visits Japan and gets involved in a mystery surrounding a fellow writer turned criminal mastermind. Luridly pulpy on the surface, elegant and sadistically playful underneath, the movie plays psych-out with its characters and the audience alike. Minor, sure, but very nicely turned. The same could be said of "Every Little Step," a documentary about the making of the hit 1970s Broadway musical "A Chorus Line" as well as the casting of the recent revival. I wandered into this one with a few hours to kill and was thoroughly charmed by a movie that sets modest aims and exceeds every one of them.
About Movie Nation
ContributorsTy Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.
Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.
Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.
Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.
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