Toronto 2012: Simon's reviews part 2
David O. Russell’s (The Fighter, Three Kings) latest is essentially a by the numbers rom-com earning easy laughs off mental health issues but done with real skill – so long as you don’t mind being drowned in cliche and sentimentality. Bradley Cooper, in another impressive lead at TIFF, plays a bi-polar man pining for his ex-wife and attempting to come to terms with his illness and win his wife back through a dance competition with his equally troubled family friend. Set against a background of American football which buries some of the jokes for a UK audience it just about pulls it off and makes you care for its characters despite sticking rigidly to rom-com conventions. De Niro gives a lively performance but the whole thing feels like a well-tooled crowd pleaser leaving its audience with no room for its own thoughts and nothing to take home after the obligatory happy ending. But the audience loved it…
Robert Redford’s Weather Underground thriller is a thoughtful gripping story of the human cost of political radicalism. Examining how the youthful life choices of 60’s anti-war activists have effected them 30 years after the event as the law slowly closes in on those remaining at large after a bungled bank robbery where a security guard was shot and killed. After a run of plodding features from Redford I had pretty low expectations of this but took a punt – and was really glad I did. With a great cast including Redford, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte and Er… Shia LaBeouf this really delivers both as a man on the run against impossible odds thriller but even more so as a film about aging and consequences of trying to get on and live a normal life, including raising children, while always looking over your shoulder.
Michael Winterbottom’s latest film is an understated grim depiction of the effects of life in prison for John Simm on both himself and his young family. Simm is frustrated and pained as he watches his family grow up with him as little more than a bystander in his own life. For his long-suffering wife Shirley Henderson, it’s a repetitive grueling grind of work, childcare and lonely struggle as she looks after their four kids. But a repetitive grind for the characters is also one for the audience with a schematic juxtaposing of pastoral landscape, prison life and claustrophobic domesticity all set to a rather overbearing Nyman score. Written by Winterbottom and the writer of his fantastic Wonderland this was a real disappointment. Intended as a long term, but now truncated, project to be shot over many years a la Seven-up, this feels very much like a filler between projects rather than a thought through developed full feature.
Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim Robbins star in Stuart Blumbergs (writer of The Kids Are Alright) debut as a director. It comes across as schematic splicing of Shame and Magnolia with its multiple parallel narratives centered around a neutered portrayal of sex addiction. The problem was a distinct lack of imagination and easy laughs. Without the top notch cast giving the material more respect than it deserves this could be a TV disease of the month film. Bleugh.
Whoever would have guessed Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook and My Sisters Keeper) had this film lurking in the darker recesses of his imagination? A wildly inventive portrait of a prescription drug addicted supply teacher who finds herself in economic freefall after being fired for having sex with a father at her school PTA meeting. Along the way we get a witty series of drug fueled hallucinations ranging from Busby Berkeley dance sequences singing about being broke, a jaw droppingly fun cycling accident which sees our heroine flashing back to her sex-filled love affair with with her brother, a touretting Sienna Miller, animated disney pastiches as she hooks up to play happy families with self-admitted misogynist Ray Liotta, a vicious family dinner with Gena Rowlands and Melanie Griffith morphing literally into animals as they tear into both each-other and a hairy roast pig. Deliciously bonkers.