Here's to grand ambition, the spiritual cousin of self-sabotage; whatever scale filmmakers are working on, it's a thin (blood)line that separates them. An noble arguable failure and an unwieldy arguable success from the Toronto International Film Festival will illustrate…
The very talented multi-hypenate filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has been MIA from cinema for the past seven years. He's presumably been huddled over various computers or engulfed in endless meetings trying to work out the logistics of bringing this epic outerspace survival drama to the screen. [more...]
But the logistics and the budget seem to have gotten in the way. Gravity wants to be a masterpiece (and props to it for that) but abundant compromises are felt. It makes a point of telling you that there is no sound in space and sticks to it except for the HUGE score which drowns out the terror of the silence. It gives you only two players and casts them for maximum bankability (but for no other visible reason) and then has them play 100% stock characters that a screenplay computer program might write with no authentic-feeling contours, depth or pecularities (surprising for a writer of Cuarón's sensitivity). Finally, and here's the trickiest confusing part... the setpieces and key images are truly spectacular and inspired and shout "Look at me!" and you gladly obey. But since they're all the film is giving, and it clearly wants to be an emotional spiritual journey rather than just a f/x reel, it falls flat. The score begs that you "Feel this!" but, for me, I couldn't. I could only look at it.
C+ (B-?) Despite my initial disappointment, I'd gladly see it again to reconsider and hoping I connect more on second viewing. Because my god the beauty. (And the beauty of the folly!)
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: HIM & HER
And on to a different kind of self-sabotage. Imagine it, you're a young writer/director making your calling card debut feature. You've written a great script which is sensitive about grief and the ways people reform themselves after a tragedy but it's never maudlin (neat trick there) and often very enjoyable with a great sense of humor and resonant character beats. You have two super talented hot stars (James McAvoy & Jessica Chastain) as your headliners to draw this nuanced map of the grieving human heart. You've also nabbed a juicy supporting cast full of vivid talented actors (Isabelle Huppert, Nina Arianda, Ciarin Hinds, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Jess Weixler, and Viola Davis who is really funny in this) and given them ALL quite a lot to work with so no one walks away with a thankless role. So you go and make a great devastating 2 hour romantic ensemble drama and you release it and everyone loves it and you win awards and "best new filmmaker" honors, right?
Not so fast.
If you're Ned Benson you've opted to make two pictures. Or maybe one picture of two halves. They might be released separately. Or maybe together. Or in quick succession? In alternating show times in the same theater like repertory? You claim not to care about the order they're viewed in and in your big international festival debut you switch the order so that people have a different experience. Unless you have "final cut" which most debut auteurs don't chances are your distributor will undoubtedly be calling the shots from here on out which is a big uh-oh moment. As I happened to see it at its premiere with Him preceding Her, this 3 hour movie felt like perfect conjoined fraternal twins, each of 90 minutes in length. I say fraternal since The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him (the one starring James McAvoy with Chastain in a supporting role) and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her (the one starring Jessica Chastain with McAvoy in a supporting role) have very different temperaments, casts, and only share a few scenes... but not, crucially, the same takes of those scenes. We understand the drama wholly only through seeing both sides of it.
I can't imagine that its safe to surgically severe Him and Her and release them into the wilds of arthouse theaters. And keeping them together but lopping off their limbs (say 20 minutes from both which seems likely) seems like high-risk business for something this delicately wrought and inventively conceived.
B+ (for now... though who knows what incarnation of this movie will eventually screen for non-festival audiences in 2014)
Podcast a group discussion of TIFF 13: Oscar buzz, our favorite films, and more
Mano-a-Mano Hallucinations Norway's Pioneer & Jake Gyllenhaal² in Enemy
Quickies Honeymoon, Young & Beautiful, Belle
Labor Day in a freeze-frame nutshell
Jessica Chastain at the Eleanor Rigby Premiere
August Osage County reactions Plus Best Picture Nonsense
Rush Ron Howard's crowd pleaser
The Past from Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi & Cannes Best Actress Berenice Bejo
Queer Double Feature: Tom at the Farm and Stranger by the Lake
Boogie Nights Live Read with Jason Reitman and Friends
First 3 Screenings: Child's Pose, Unbeatable and Isabelle Huppert in Abuse of Weakness
TIFF Arrival: Touchdown in Toronto. Two unsightly Oscars