TIFF Film #8 of 8
What a perfect way to end another fantastic year at TIFF. This film is a delight! A near-perfect mixture of absurd, silly humour, and genuine, heartfelt drama. For a film to be able to take me from deep belly laughs one moment, to welling up with tears the next is no easy task, it’s a tightrope walk, and Jojo Rabbit absolutely nails it. Written and directed by Taiki Waititi (based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens), Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a young boy living in Nazi Germany during World War II, who must confront his blind loyalty to the Nazi Party’s ethnic nationalism when he discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Oh, and young Jojo’s indoctrination runs so deep that his imaginary friend manifests itself as Adolf Hitler, played with hysterical buffoonery by Taiki Waititi himself. None of this may sound like it makes for particularly good comedy, or comedy at all for that matter, and I could even understand thinking that it just sounds tasteless, but I don’t know what to tell you. It just works. The film deservedly and mercilessly takes the piss out of Nazis, and all of the difficult subject matter is handled with surprising tenderness. Newcomer Roman Griffon Davis plays Jojo and does an excellent job, particularly so when you consider that this is his first film role and the emotional journey he’s required to guide his character through. The standout star though, is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the young Jewish girl being hidden by Jojo’s mother. You may have seen her in last year’s Leave No Trace, a criminally overlooked and under-seen film with an astonishingly good performance from McKenzie. I’m not sure that she’s quite on that level here, but she’s amazing regardless, and definitely an actress we should be on the lookout for in the near future. Scarlett Johansson also stars as Jojo’s mother, and there was some early speculation that she may be a supporting actress contender, but I’m not sure I see that happening. Not because she isn’t good in this, she absolutely is, but I figure she is a lock for her leading role in Marriage Story, and it is incredibly rare for an actress to be nominated in both categories in the same year. Jojo Rabbit was announced as the TIFF People’s Choice Award winner during my screening, which is the festival’s highest honour. None of us in the audience knew it until we left the theatre and looked at out phones, but given the sheer enthusiasm of the applause that broke out when the credits rolled, it didn’t surprise me at all when I found out. I tend to find applause after a film screening when none of the actors or filmmakers are present kind of just bizarre and tacky, but this just seemed so genuine, a packed house of people showing their appreciation for having just had themselves a damn good time at the movies.
TIFF Film #4 of 8
This is one of the most personal and cathartic films you’re likely to see this year. Written by Shia LaBeouf while he was in a court-ordered rehab facility, Honey Boy tells the story of his own childhood, growing up as a child-star in Hollywood with an abusive father. He doesn’t direct here, those responsibilities are handed off to Alma Har’el, making her feature-length narrative film debut after a small handful of well-received documentaries, music videos, and a short. He does, however, play his own father, in what must have been a terribly difficult role for him to inhabit. The story begins in 2005, where the Shia Labeouf stand-in, who is called Otis within the narrative and played by Lucas Hedges, is already deep into his acting career. We see him on expensive film sets, doing elaborate scenes involving explosions and harnesses, but much more importantly than that, we see him drinking, and drinking to excess. All of this partying comes to a head when he is in a drunk-driving accident, and in lieu of jail-time he is sent to a rehabilitation centre. It is here that we begin to flashback to his childhood, when he was just beginning his career, and the story of him and his relationship to his father starts to unfold. The young Otis is played by Noah Jupe, who you may recognize from last year’s A Quiet Place, or 2017’s Wonder. He does an excellent job, playing the part with a such a precise form of vulnerability and sadness pulled directly from the real life of his co-star and screenwriter. He and Shia LaBeouf are the only two on screen for most of the film’s most important moments, and while I can’t really go in to specifics without feeling like I’m spoiling the magic, I can say every single scene they share together is nothing short of remarkable. Shia LaBeouf as his own father is a lot more than just a career-best performance, it is that, but I also don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. This story is so deeply personal and private, to the point that you feel like you shouldn’t even be allowed to watch it, but it’s also very universal about so many things. I wouldn’t call Honey Boy a coming-of-age tale necessarily, but it is certainly adjacent to that type of storytelling. But much more than that it is a story about trauma and abuse and addiction, and eventually perseverance and forgiveness.
TIFF film #3 of 8
Uncut Gems is one of the most chaotic, anxiety-inducing, and downright nauseating films I’ve ever seen. And I mean that in the best way possible. It is a complete and utter sensory overload. It is relentless. Much of the dialogue is shouted, yet it still manages to compete for the foreground with the cacophonous score. It sounds like it could be insufferable. But it isn’t. It is exhilarating. Adam Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner in New York City’s Diamond District, who is so deep in debt, that he’s perpetually treading water to keep out of trouble with collectors. He scams, he pawns other people’s property, and he makes exorbitant wagers on basketball games. None of his scheming seems to work out in his favour, but his luck might be about to change when a rare opal from a mine in Ethiopia arrives at his shop stuffed inside a dead fish. The opal, in his mind, is set to net him upwards of one million dollars when it sells it auction the following week, and all of his problems will be solved. Things go awry, however, when NBA star Kevin Garnett visits the shop and insists on borrowing the gem for luck in that evenings playoff game against the 76ers. What follows is one of the most entertaining and batshit crazy two hours of film you’re likely to see all year. Josh and Benny Safdie were at my screening and introduced the film. Apparently they’ve been trying to get this film made for ten years, and they talked about how everything they’ve made leading up to this, including 2017’s spectacular Good Time, served as a training ground for Uncut Gems. And it really shows. As excellent as Good Time is, I feel like this is a step even further for them. The screenplay and the direction are both pitch-perfect, with chaotic handheld camerawork complimented beautifully by Darius Khondji’s gorgeous cinematography. Adam Sandler gives what I think will go down as the greatest performance of his career, finally unseating his turn in Punch Drunk Love. When Sandler gets teamed up with a true auteur like Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach, or in this case, the Safdie brothers, he really is a remarkably good actor. The supporting cast are all great too, including Kevin Garnett, but the two standouts for me are Lakeith Stanfield as a business partner of sorts of Sandler’s character, responsible for bringing celebrity business into the shop, and Julia Fox as his secret girlfriend for whom he rents an apartment in the city. I mentioned it earlier, but one of the true stars of this film is the score from composer Daniel Lopatin. It sets the mood early on and doesn’t let up throughout the entire two hour and ten minute runtime. I feel like Adam Sandler for best actor and Lopatin for best original score are all we can really hope for this film come awards season, but it will certainly make my personal list for a hell of a lot more. Seek this one out when it goes wide, I’m quite sure you won’t be disappointed.