The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: minimalist shorts, Judd Apatow’s marital tragicomedy, and Toronto filmmaker Kazik Radwanski’s auspicious feature debut.
Oscar Shorts: Animated
Frequently relegated to DVD-extra status or, at best, a plum spot before one of Disney’s feature-length behemoths, animated short films rarely get recognized for the incredible amount of artistry and labour that goes into their production. As much as the quality of the programme sometimes varies, then, it’s always nice to see the genre foregrounded by the annual anthology of Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short.
Minimalism seems to be the unspoken theme of this year’s roster, with nary a word spoken across the five nominees. The best in terms of sheer inventiveness is probably Pes’ Fresh Guacamole, which finds an unidentified chef repurposing toxic Americana—from grenades to baseballs and casino chips—for the titular guacamole. David Silverman’s Maggie Simpson: The Longest Daycare is similarly playful and, surprisingly, just as mildly subversive. It follows the popular soother-sucker as she navigates the labyrinth of a fascist daycare named after Ayn Rand.
Where both films are mostly content to make sly visual jokes, the remaining selections are more ambitious, with mixed results. Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly’s claymation entry, Head Over Heels, is a striking (if obvious) look at a married couple who occupy drastically different parts of one house, but it comes too close to retracing the steps of Up‘s opening 10 minutes. Disney’s entry, Paperman by John Kahrs, is likely to be a sentimental favourite for its love-conquers-all story and gorgeous design, but it’s nothing new. Minkyu Lee’s Adam & Dog is far more potent under the hood, even if its Edenic allegory about man’s true best friend leaves Eve in even worse shape than Paradise Lost did. The Oscar will probably go to one of the last two, but there’s plenty to appreciate all around.
This is 40
Directed by Judd Apatow
The Royal (608 College Street)
There’s a decent movie kicking around somewhere in This Is 40, but good luck finding it. Since The 40-Year-Old Virgin (if not earlier), Judd Apatow has been at the forefront of a kind of observational middle-class tragicomedy that’s since been taken up by other filmmakers as disparate as Seth Rogen and Lena Dunham. This Is 40 pushes even further in the direction of personal anecdote than 2009’s overlong but interesting Funny People, an insider’s look at the comedy scene in which Apatow learned his craft. But This Is 40 approaches the subject matter less successfully, dialing up the confessional details and blasting the volume to substitute for insight.
The film revisits Pete and Debbie, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s squabbling couple from Knocked Up—along with their children, Apatow’s actual daughters with Mann—in a more contentious phase of their marriage. Pete and Debbie’s marital crisis worked as a plausible emotional counterpoint to Rogen’s nascent romance with Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, but Apatow seems lost without that structural touchstone to orient his leads this time. As if embarrassed by the occasional cruelty of their fights and the messy problems that drive them—loaning a deadbeat dad $80,000 while in dire straits is no small matter, even if the dad is Albert Brooks—Apatow throws Pete and Debbie up against a rotating cast of bit players in glib side episodes that bloat the film to 135 minutes and distract from the more involving thread about how the couple’s mutual hostility affects their daughters.
Rudd and Mann are likable enough, but despite the autobiographical winks and nudges, they’re stuck playing cartoons—the Apatow vision of the archetypal 40-something man and woman, respectively. It’s no surprise that both archetypes are white, wealthy, and constitutionally incapable of uttering the word “abortion” (as in Knocked Up). This is a problem in a film whose title courts universal identification. If this is 40, viewers under the threshold ought to brace themselves for an endless procession of swanky birthday parties, iPads, and adult-contemporary music, all with a soupçon of marital discord.
Directed by Kazik Radwanski
Early in Kazik Radwanski’s Tower, a dentist tells Derek (Derek Bogart) that he has an impacted tooth, coming in at a dangerous angle. Wisdom teeth, she reminds him, are usually removed before you turn 25, which makes Derek a late bloomer at 34, or “overdue,” as the dentist puts it. That moment, which is simultaneously a wonderfully awkward exchange between two people in an office, a harbinger of things to come, and a figurative nod to Derek’s state of arrested development, is typical of the way Radwanski packs rich detail into a simple story.
Directing his first feature after a number of well-received shorts, Radwanski keeps a tight focus on his protagonist, rarely straying from closeups of Bogart, who speaks with a childlike twang that’s part Revenge of the Nerds, part southern-Ontarian civility. Derek is a single—and more or less unemployed—animator who’s spent the past few months grounded in his parents’ basement, completing 14 seconds of a short film about a little green hoarder whose possessions destroy him. (Before hearing about the ending, his family dreams about the merchandising potential.) Surely his cartoon is a commitment-phobe’s self-portrait in green, but Derek isn’t too fond of self-analysis. To its credit, neither is the film.
Both director and star have a fine ear for how odd people with good manners talk. And Radwanski is just as attuned to Toronto’s constant background noises, among them the soothing TTC voice and the click of an iPhone. As a character study, though, Tower belongs to Derek, a mesmerizing overgrown child with a scar between his eyes like an exclamation mark. Whether he’s weaseling out of a date or, in a great set piece towards the end, facing off against a raccoon that’s been greedily rummaging through the family garbage, he’s hard to look away from.