The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: Paul Verhoeven’s misunderstood showbiz satire, Tommy Wiseau’s disastrous anti-masterpiece, and Bruce McDonald’s newest.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
The films of Netherlands-born, America-adopting filmmaker Paul Verhoeven tend to have a long shelf life, though none has been as long or as tumultuous as Showgirls. Near universally panned on release as a titillating bore and an instant career-ender for dead-eyed former teen star Elizabeth Berkley (of Saved by the Bell fame), the film has since gone on to second and third lives as, respectively, an ironic camp classic and a sincere showbiz satire.
Berkley plays Nomi Malone (née Polly Ann Costello), an ambitious drifter who turns up at a high-end Las Vegas strip club hoping to inch her way to the top. To get there, though, she has to go through sleazy “entertainment director” Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) and club star Cristal (Gina Gershon), who sees Nomi as nothing but an unscrupulous bottom-feeder gunning for an undeserved shot at stardom.
A funhouse mirror adaptation of All About Eve’s star-is-born saga—and more enjoyable than its closest cousin, the comparably sombre Black Swan—Showgirls is as corrosive as it is riotous. It’s easy enough to appreciate the flagrant absurdity of the set pieces, including a volcanic dance number and a mechanical poolside seduction in front of some dolphin sculptures, both more expertly staged than Verhoeven’s detractors have ever given him credit for. But in its casual savaging of the monsters who occupy every rung of the show business power ladder, Showgirls has bite, which makes the view of the film that holds it can’t possibly be aware of its awfulness somewhat baffling.
Friday’s screening will be introduced by Globe and Mail critic Adam Nayman, author of the fittingly titled new monograph It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls.
Directed by Tommy Wiseau
Carlton Cinema (20 Carlton Street)
Though it was initially billed by its creator as a heavy-hitting lyrical drama in the vein of Tennessee Williams, Tommy Wiseau’s anti-masterpiece The Room has recently settled comfortably into its groove as the go-to for spectators in search of a new so-bad-its-good milestone. Incompetently staged, lazily scripted, and surreal beyond description, The Room more than fits the bill.
For the uninitiated, Wiseau (who also served as screenwriter, producer, and apparently bankroller for the reported $6-million budget) plays Jonny, a mild-mannered San Francisco banker eager to marry his “future wife” Lisa (real trooper Juliette Danielle), who, unbeknownst to Johnny, is in the middle of a long-term affair with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). That minor-key tale of betrayal is about it for the plot, which otherwise unfolds as a series of increasingly abstract non sequiturs, including sketchily computer-animated rooftop chats and impromptu games of passing a football around at short distances, at one point in an alley, while the participants are all wearing tuxedos.
One never knows how to get a read on Wiseau, a thickly accented, vampiric sort who invests every slurred line delivery with childlike wonder, and who has gone on to embrace the film’s rebirth as a midnight movie, despite his obviously different intentions for it. Hubristic as he may be for inventing the film out of whole cloth seemingly as an excuse to stage prolonged sex scenes that showcase his eerie body in action, it’s hard not to like him—the way one likes an especially daft uncle in spite of one’s deepest reservations.
Wiseau and beleaguered costar Sestero, author of the recent bestseller The Disaster Artist, which chronicles the making of the film, will be on hand to introduce each of the screenings.
Directed by Bruce McDonald
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Unlike the consistent trajectory followed by fellow Toronto New Wave filmmaker Atom Egoyan, Bruce McDonald’s career has never quite settled into a recognizable pattern, accommodating genre thrillers like Pontypool as well as hybrid fiction-concert movies like This Movie is Broken. The Husband, McDonald’s newest, is especially hard to place, pitched as it is on the edge of being either a black comedy or a psychological thriller.
Maxwell McCabe-Lokos plays Henry, the titular stooge, a Toronto ad man whose wife has just been hauled off to prison for sleeping with her fourteen-year-old student, leaving Henry in charge of their infant son. Henry doesn’t quite know how to cope with the humiliation, turning into a disgruntled stalker hellbent on giving his wife’s underage lover (and, though Henry doesn’t seem to realize the gravity of the situation, statutory rape victim) a taste of his misery.
McDonald is something of an unsung talent in English-Canadian cinema, appreciated for his endurance but underrated for his technical prowess and democratic tastes. The Husband is a nice showcase of the low-key naturalism he’s honed over the years of making faux-documentaries like Hard Core Logo, making excellent use of some distinctly recognizable Toronto spaces, including the spiral staircases of the AGO. That goes some distance toward making up for the relative thinness of the material, a character sketch that feels unnecessarily stretched even at eighty minutes. Though its tonal complexity and willingness to push its lead to uncomfortable places is refreshing, then, it isn’t quite enough to sustain a feature-length film, and for all its efforts, The Husband ends up as undefined as the nondescript title suggests.