Monday, September 9, 2013

TIFF Day 4

The F Word
Radcliffe round two for me. While he was perfectly acceptable in Horns, he's a much better match in The F Word. I usually don't bother with romantic comedies at TIFF, as the bulk of the genre isn't worth the premium price. It's rare a When Harry Met Sally, or Annie Hall or even a Crazy, Stupid, Love comes along, so I'm happy to let the masses pass judgement before I buy a ticket. But this had two things going for it - director Michale Dowse (Goon, Fubar) and leading lady Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). If I'd known it was set in Toronto, that would have shot it near the top of the list.

I loved Goon, and I thought Ruby Sparks was great, especially Zoe (who wrote and starred in it). The write-ups on The F Word were that it wasn't your typical rom-con, and they were right.

The story isn't unfamiliar - boy (Wallace - Radcliffe) loses girl, boy meets new girl (Chantry - Kazan), new girl has boyfriend, boy and girl become friends while secretly pining for each other. Many people might call it their life. Of course, this friendship develops into one that is so good that neither side wants to jeopardize it by revealing their feelings. There's also that really great 5-year relationship with her live-in boyfriend (Ben - Rafe Spall) Chantry has going. So, friendship continues as nothing more.

Except that Wallace has his meddling friends trying to push him to admit his feelings for Chantry, and Wallace worries about the fallout. Meanwhile, Chantry refuses to set any of her friends (or sister) up with Wallace because she obviously has feelings for him. Ben moves to Dublin for a temporary work assignment, Chantry gets offered a job in Taiwan, nothing much happens to Wallace.

Your typical rom-com setup, right? Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai do something strange with it though - they ground it in reality. Chantry has a good thing going with Ben, they're happy, in love, and stable, and Ben's not an asshole. She's not going to throw that away for a crush. Her concerns about the promotion are more about uprooting her life over wanting to be near one friend she's known for a few months (although he does factor in). Wallace is drifting in life, and while he knows he's fallen completely for Chantry, he's the nice guy who doesn't want to be a home wrecker and ruin a really good friendship. His best friend (and Chantry's cousin)  is a buffoon with blunt advice and a crazy whirlwind romance of his own going on who wants the same for his buddy. There are no crazy chase scenes, or ridiculous setups where a bunch of stupid decisions leads to comic situations. There is one unexpected and nearly believable moment of absolute slapstick that works incredibly well though.

It all comes to a head of course, and there's drama and pain and whatnot, but again, there's been so much time building up a real chemistry and believability in the characters that it doesn't feel tired and hackneyed.

Both Radcliffe and Kazan are great in this. Radcliffe gives the impression that this is right in line with his real persona, joking, sarcastic, self-effacing, and British - he's more comfortable in this role than I've ever seen him. Kazan once again stays away from the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope by being a real person. In fact, other than being a great friend and someone to hang out with, she teaches Radcliffe nothing, pushes him towards no life-altering decisions, or really actively changes him in any way. At no point does she blow his mind with some insight on how stuck he is, or provide a song that will change his life. There's a great chemistry between them, and you find yourself rooting for them to figure some way to work this out so they can keep the friendship. The rest of the cast is able to keep up easily, with sharp banter and sincere relationships with the central characters. The sharp, sarcastic wit throughout the script makes this seem easy.

I mentioned it's set in Toronto, right? It is. Wonderfully so. The city, as any great city, is a part of the story. Not explicitly so. There's no hanging off the CN Tower, or going to a Leafs Game here. Much like Take This Waltz, it serves as a backdrop. The parks, the beaches, the houses, neighbourhoods, and skyline are all framed to be recognizable and feel just right for the characters. As writer Mastai said in the Q&A - "when you're in love, every city is Paris..." so why can't that city be Toronto?

Now if only they'd had the guts to end it differently.

Fading Gigolo
John Turturro does Woody Allen. Well, actually John Turturro does Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, and a bunch of other women as he plays a male prostitute, with Woody Allen as his pimp.

Murray (Allen) is a New York bookstore owner - which means he's closing the store. Fioravante (Turturro) is his florist friend who is working at his shop two days a week and living hand-to-mouth.  A casual comment from his dermatologist (Stone) gets Murray thinking that maybe he could pimp out his single friend to lonely women for a small finder's fee, which would of course help them both out financially.

And so, the comedy stage is set. The concept of Fioravante as an attractive ladies man is somehow made believable through the conversations amongst Stone and Vergara - he's not a pretty boy, is in good shape, has rough hands... is a MAN, but not some impossible ideal of a man. In short, he's approachable and non-threatening. The concept is of course absurd, but this IS a comedy. Allen doing his thing for the first third of the movie makes this abundantly clear.

The movie takes a strange turn around the halfway mark, when Vanessa Paradis comes in as Avigal, the widow of an Hasidic Rabbi. Here, Fioravante becomes a caregiver, leading this bereaved woman out of her mourning, not through sex, but through love and caring and a bit of sensuality. This leads to a whole strange subplot of some sort of underground Jewish tribunal of Murray and a jealous neighbourhood Jewish patrolman (Liev Schreiber). It's a bit of a jarring tonal shift.

As a whole movie, the second half lessens it. It has the feel of two different films combined into one, or a prelude that takes too long to get to the real heart of the story. As a concept though, it's very much an homage to old school Woody Allen, with New York as a the familiar backdrop, jazz as the familiar soundtrack, and an absurd idea surrounded by precise prattle moving it all along. It won't go down as a classic, but if you've got a spare hour and half, it's an enjoyable distraction, and definitely keeps me interested in Turturro on the other side of the camera.

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