Rob Ford makes the jump to the big screen in the new mockumentary Toronah. Torontoist brings you an early report of the movie magic.
Jaws dropped all over town a couple of days ago with the news of a new film called Toronah, an unscripted ‘dysfunctional comedy’ that featured a bombshell within the trailer, the promised feature film debut of one of Canada’s biggest stars, the legendary Rob Ford.
It seemed inevitable that a post-mayoral future for Rob Ford would include a sojourn to the silver screen. Ford has always shown a passion for the movie business—as mayor he famously visited Hollywood to drum up interest in Toronto’s film industry; in the pause between his mayoral terms it may have occurred to him: why not boost the Toronto film industry directly by appearing in films himself?
Besides the fact that Rob Ford is internationally known, and brings his own nation of fans with him to any project, a savvy director could conceivably extract a great redemptive performance from the former mayor, one that would draw on his real-world notoriety and turbulence, kind of like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Perhaps a local filmmaker like Frank D’Angelo would some day welcome Rob into his caravan of players. And if he could become a successful, bankable film star, there Is always the chance that, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps Rob Ford could parlay stardom into a successful political career.
Rick Smiciklas, the founder and CEO of the Canadian restaurant chain Wild Wing, recently sold his interest the company after battling with the American Buffalo Wild Wings chain as they expanded their operations into Southern Ontario. His complicated departure from the Wing War and the attendant chaos was the stuff of a crazy movie, Smiciklas thought, and with a sudden influx of money and an open road ahead of him, he decided to damn the torpedoes and give the movie producing business a go.
He didn’t have a script, but he had inspiration—it had always bothered him that Toronto was a big city and fabled movie town and yet so many Hollywood movies filmed here have us standing in for New York, Chicago or Anytown USA. Smicklas seized on the idea of a making a film that celebrates the city its residents pronounce as “Toronah”, even trademarking the name when he discovered it was available.
He also bought a sweet 1977 Trans Am to put a TORONAH license plate on, and with direction by a trio of filmmakers billed only as “The Three Amigos” they set about making a raucous, unscripted guerrilla comedy quick and dirty, knocking out a nearly finished product out in three months, self-financed as opposed to the long gestation process of taxpayer-subsidized filmmaking in this country (“milking government like a cow with six tits,” as Smiciklas put it). Casting Ford in the film guaranteed that people, especially true fans of #movies and #popcorn, would sit up and take notice.
UnFORDunately for Ford fans, he only appears in the first few minutes of the film to set the plot of Toronah in motion. Granted, the film gives the people what they want right out of the gate, with Ford tooling through the streets in the Trans Am during the opening sequence. Rob Ford burning rubber in a sweet ride is a brilliant way to start any movie, and Ford’s easy-going persona and charm loses nothing in the jump from that top left box on CP24 to the big screen.
He may only be in the first five minutes of the film, but Orson Welles was only in The Third Man for 10 minutes and yet he’s commonly remembered as the co-star. Despite his absence from the rest of the proceedings, Ford’s personal, chaotic energy is transferred to the plot of the film: a manic tale of mistaken identity, sexcapades, missing money and cross-country mix-ups (the film, in fact, bounces between Toronah and Chicago as characters frantically look for each other in the wrong cities). The film maintains a frenzied, exhausting pace as it bounces between the wacky storylines (including a memorable turn by a large, loud man decked out as Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard) but most of the scenes are under a minute in length and broken up by time-lapse shots of rushing traffic, or the sun setting over the skyline. In fact, the film manages to convey a dim memory of the glamorous, cosmopolitan image of the city as conveyed by the Toronto 1 channel in the early 2000s: a haze of flashy cars, condo bubble baths and bottle service.
But one problem with unscripted screwball comedies such as this is that no memorable lines of dialogue emerge from the din, which is crucial to success. The film’s structure gets too repetitive and aimless but ends with a beautiful moment of symmetry when Doug Ford appears in a very brief role to pick up Rob’s Trans Am and drive off.
Ford came straight from council to the Varsity VIP cinema for the screening, wearing his now-characteristic Adidas track suit (black top, white pants), and was warmly received by the crowd. Smiciklas explained the film we were about to see was 85 per cent finished, with sound and titles still being finalized. There was a chance that Ford would only stay for the first few minutes in case he needed to go home to rest, but he wound up staying past his cameo all the way to the end, and came up to the front for a post-show Q&A.
It was Rob’s first time seeing the film and he enjoyed it, adding “it’s a great film, it really shows Toronto…it’s a lot of humour, a lot of swearing, a lot of sex.” He hastened to add that he would probably only allow his children to see just the beginning part with him in it, because otherwise “this is not appropriate to the kids.” Unfortunately for Hollywood, Ford intends to concentrate on his work at City Hall with an eye on the 2018 election.
Impressively, Ford filmed his scenes for Toronah earlier this summer, the day before his cancer surgery. The only direction Smiciklas gave Ford before the cameras rolled was a simple directive: “I’m Vince McMahon, you’re Hulk Hogan, let’s get it over.” The producer paid special tribute to Ford by citing the inspirational words of Eminem: “you only get one shot, one opportunity, and Rob gave me that opportunity.”
If this film represents a second chance in life for the filmmaker, who better to personify this ideal than Rob Ford, a man who has known many second chances?
Toronah is scheduled to officially premiere December 4—two weeks before the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it will include a post-screening press conference and discussion. The filmmakers promise a follow-up 2016 film called The Korean Gangster featuring frequent D’Angelo co-star Paul Sorvino and, yes, Rob Ford.
Photo by Jesse Hawken.