Monday, 9 September 2019

TIFF-ing in a Neighbourhood In Order to Build a Girl

Editor's Note: For the third consecutive year, Dawn and The Husband will be spending chunks of the next fortnight attending the Toronto International Film Festival, known to the locals as TIFF. While they can now proudly call themselves seasoned veterans at this madness, they have still selected a modest, albeit an increased number of films, (7) because they are old and lining up for hours is tough on the joints; have no interest in midnight madness viewings; and that number is honestly far more films than anybody really needs to view in less than ten days. TIFF still serves as a tremendous distraction from the world's ills, the impending High Holidays, and asshole would-be dictators whose names rhyme with Dump and Thug. (If you are British, you can reasonably now add the asshole who rhymes with Doris to this list.) The next several posts will focus exclusively on TIFF and will offer very quick bullet point reviews for the movies seen. 

After a very busy weekend, we resumed our TIFF-ing on Sunday with two screenings. I'm not exactly certain what we were thinking when we decided that after serving Torah study breakfast, hosting a citizenship party at our home, and an unveiling on Sunday morning, that watching two movies in one day was a great scheduling choice but there we were struggling to keep our eyes open for A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood and How to Build a Girl.

We needn't have worried. Both films are exceptional and rather than fall victim to exhaustion, instead, we were exhilarated.  

I will admit to having concerns about Beautiful Day when we purchased the tickets. I have been a Mr. Rogers fan for decades and was so very moved by the documentary last year entitled Won't You Be My Neighbour that I am still stinging from its exclusion in Oscar consideration. If you haven't seen this beautiful film about Fred, it is a must-watch. The doc details the most intimate details of Rogers' life and his lifework with children. It is truly stunning that anybody could have been as fundamental a human being as Fred Rogers was, his approach to his own life and how it affected the world at large, is an ethos we should all be striving for. As much as I love to watch Tom Hanks create a character, I was concerned that Beautiful Day would reduce Mr. Rogers to a caricature in a mediocre biopic. I needn't have worried. 

Under the lovely and tender hand of director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me, The Diary of a Teenage Girl) Fred Rogers becomes the vehicle for her vision of wanting to give the world more of what Fred Rogers was rather than who he was. Based on the real-life friendship of Rogers and writer Tom Junod, Beautiful Day is less a movie about Fred Rogers' life and much more about how the values that he lived by are so lacking in the world. Tom Hanks is exceptional in the role but it is Matthew Rhys (The Americans) who really carries the film. His tortured writer is central to the film and he really carries the heavy lifting. The article that the film is based on is available here and I would really recommend that you read it after you have seen the film. It will help with your wonder and we all know that Mr. Rogers really did appreciate the wonder. At the Q and A following the screening, Heller was asked if she was concerned that the documentary would hurt the reception for the film but she replied that she views the two movies as sister projects and that they should be seen as a complete compilation of Mr. Rogers. She said, "It can't be a bad thing to have more Mr. Rogers in the world." As Fred himself said, "If it is mentionable, it is manageable." 

A quick aside. The music is phenomenal in this film, both the melodies that were written by Fred Rogers and the choices for the soundtrack. It was truly a character in the film.

Our second screening of How to Build a Girl was less about the film itself and more about the absolute star-making turn by its lead Beanie Feldstein. (Lady Bird) The film really did remind me of a 21st-century version of Clueless. It is a smart, funny, sometimes pathetic, but often brutal portrait of teenage girl self-discovery. Feldstein is a revelation as Johanna and she eats up every single hectare of screen real estate. She is fearless and takes on the role with a verve rarely seen today in film. It was simply a joy to watch her and she absolutely blows Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) and all of her other costars off the screen. Ms. Feldstein is a star, an unconventional one to be certain, but a real actor's actor. Her career trajectory is about to explode. Expect to see her everywhere in the next year. The movie is slightly predictable and falls apart a bit in the third act but it is really well done and it is very easy to overlook its flaws and tired tropes. 

Both A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood and How to Build a Girl will be much buzzed during award season but it really doesn't matter at all. See them both. You will be happy you did. 

Dawn and The Husband give both films two enthusiastic YUPS!

**Note: People have asked why I haven't given more detail in these reviews. I hate when I read reviews that give away the movie. I loathe trailers that show you all the best bits. I hope that you will see the films as much as I did and go in with your eyes and your hearts open. Just because I may not like a movie, doesn't mean you won't. Film enjoyment is subjective. I'm giving you the essence, not the plots.

Director Marielle Heller and the writers of Beautiful Neighbourhood

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