Rep Cinema This Week: Listen Up Philip, Force Majeure, and Maps to the Stars
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Rep Cinema This Week: Listen Up Philip, Force Majeure, and Maps to the Stars

The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.

Still from Listen Up Philip.

At rep cinemas this week: a bracing new dramedy from one of the luminaries of the American independent scene, a wry dark comedy about marriage and male cowardice from Sweden, and a showbiz satire from Toronto’s own David Cronenberg.

Listen Up Philip
Directed by Alex Ross Perry

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

“Literary” is the sort of buzzword that gets thrown around a lot whenever we get a new offering with a densely packed, highly verbal screenplay, but it just might be the right descriptor for Listen Up Philip, the humane and intimidatingly smart new film from Alex Ross Perry, one of the luminaries of the American independent scene. Like a long-lost Philip Roth novel—albeit an improbable one, in that it’s as interested in artistic women as it is in genius men—the film chronicles the romantic and professional tribulations of its eponymous hero, a narcissistic New York–based writer with a new novel who soldiers on in the shadow of his apparently better debut work. If that sounds insufferable, it’s worth distinguishing Philip the surly, downtrodden protagonist from Listen Up Philip the film, a humane affair that takes an honest measure of all its characters without letting them off the hook for their emotional hangups.

Jason Schwartzman is wonderful as the quick-witted hero, courting just the right measure of loathing and sympathy, but the real MVP might be Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss, who grounds the film (and more often than not, Philip himself) as his long-suffering partner Ashley, a photographer and accomplished artist in her own right, and the sort of person you wouldn’t want to see languishing as a bitter scold’s second banana. Perry’s film is savvy about the sorts of emotional warfare involved in these imbalanced relationships: it’s a testament to the film’s delicate construction that a silent close-up of Ashley in an impromptu photo shoot with her sister tells us as much about her inner life as the more loquacious but still insightful disembodied voice of the narrator.

Force Majeure
Directed by Ruben Östlund

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Masculinity itself is at stake in Ruben Östlund’s wry, button-pushing Force Majeure, Sweden’s official Oscar submission. The premise is simple enough: during a family ski trip in the French Alps, an avalanche appears to be headed straight for patriarch Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their darling blond children, parked like sitting ducks at a restaurant with a view. While Ebba holds the children, Tomas flees, only to find moments later that all is well—except for the fact that his family bonds have been severed.

Tomas’s error of self-preservation becomes a kind of curse, poisoning relationships not just with his family, who can’t look at him the same way, but also with the couple’s friends, who inevitably take sides, acting out what seems like a prehistoric conversation about gender essentialism in hunter-gatherer societies. Östlund’s sharp, critical sensibility and minimalist aesthetic keep this material from being too on the nose, even if it feels as if most of what it has to say is delivered in that one deciding minute.

Maps to the Stars
Directed by David Cronenberg

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Between the incest, the ghostly parents, and the mad children, Bruce Wagner’s script for Maps to the Stars seems as much an unwieldy collection of CanLit tropes as a soapy tribute to its director, body horror pioneer David Cronenberg. That gives the film an unhinged charm for anyone in on either joke—“Look,” they’ll say, “it’s the Genie Cronenberg won for Spider!”—but it won’t win many converts.

Julianne Moore leads a stacked ensemble featuring luminaries as disparate as John Cusack (weak) and Robert Pattinson (surprisingly great). She plays Havana, a Hollywood has-been hoping to snag a role in a remake of the film that made her late, sexually abusive mother Clarice (Sarah Gadon, playing the catty phantom) famous, though the arrival of personal assistant Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a dead ringer for her mother and a burn victim like her to boot, complicates matters.

Maps to the Stars is Cronenberg’s first proper black comedy, but his rhythms are oddly syncopated, as though each punchline is being delivered underwater. That makes for a weird song, sung off-key.