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« TIFF: The New Girlfriend | Main | TIFF Quickies: Behavior, Cub, The Gate, and The Farewell Party »

TIFF: A Little Chaos

TIFF 14 doesn't actually wrap until tomorrow night but my adventure in Toronto has come to an end. There are still a few writeups to come but here, for you, is my take on the Closing Night Film as I zip up the suitcase and head to the airport.

How to describe that thing where you thoroughly enjoy watching something that is neither objectively good, nor enjoyably bad? I imagine anyone who has an inordinate fondness for an entire genre or subgenre, quality be damned, will understand. Sci-fi and horror fans will line up nodding, I'm sure. But for me that genre is the costume dramedy.

Those with allergies to "light" costume period pieces should give this trifle from actor/director Alan Rickman a wide wide berth. For me, prone to enjoy both famous thespians playing dress-up and royalty porn as long as it neither are weighed down by the self-seriousness of Oscar-seeking biopics, this obscure fanciful tale flew by. Alan Rickman plays the King of France who wants a brand new something-he's-never-seen-before as new attraction for the gardens of Versailles. He's about to move the entire court there and the unveiling must be magnificent. A fountain it will be then and his royal gardener Andrè Le Norte (Matthias Schoenaerts in walking romance novel cover form with long luscious locks but broad shouldered manliness) hires the widow landscape designer Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) to create it because he recognizes that she's actually a visionary immediately though he can't quite admit to it as he weighs her proposal.

Complicating matters is that the King doesn't handle failure well and Le Norte's future hangs in the balance and he wants things quicker than they seem possible. Also: Le Notre and De Barra are, SURPRISE! (just kidding), falling for each other.

There's a bit of proto-feminism wishfulfillment happening and a bit of romantic melodrama but the movie never totally commits to any one thread. Its paper thin, really, with nothing much in the way of thematic interest that's actually explored or depth of characterization. All hangups aside it was just great to see Kate Winslet on the big screen again but she could've done this in her sleep while blinded by silly hats and short of breath from a corse---oh, wait. But better light and unchallenging than embarrassing which is how things go in the movie's most obvious bid at self-seriousness with a "twist" flashback about Madame Barra's tragic past that the movie teases ad nauseum from early on.

The movie suffers from what looks like underfunding since it skimps on anything that might back up the central subject matter which is meant to convey and continually references about how lush, overgrown, and imaginative De Barra's work is. But again, an easy sit, especially if you're costume inclined. Winslet and Schoenearts work fine together though their romance feels more talent-based than physical. Since their work is dramatic they sometimes feel like they're in their own film. It's not unlike those classic Disney fairy tales, really, where the leads are drawn as "beautiful" realistic-ish humans while the side characters are from another species, with oversized heads or comic limbs. Among the ensemble, most of the actors are delightful even if no one is remotely challenged (oh look Stanley Tucci doing his fun gay sidekick schtick again!). Jennifer Ehle (far on the periphery) and Helen McCrory (near the center of the action as Schoenaerts shady wife) both manage to play into the movies preference for types and caricature while also slyly suggesting actual individual character. As a result their scenes feel like whole new films sprouting up like weeds inside the one we got but that's okay since this garden is wilted. C+


Also at TIFF: WildThe Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party, BehaviorThe Theory of Everything, Imitation GameFoxcatcher, Song of the Sea, 1001 Grams, Labyrinth of Lies, Sand DollarsThe Last Five YearsWild Tales, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceForce Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of Nature, The Kingdom of Dreams and MadnessCharlie's Country, and Mommy

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Reader Comments (10)

Speaking of "that thing where you thoroughly enjoy watching something..."

"Matthias Schoenaerts in walking romance novel cover form..."

I'm sold.

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Can anyone pinpoint when Kate stopped being offered good roles,where is the 94 - 2004 free spirit actress gone,i have heard her role in triple 9 is a real treat lady macbth type role and a complete career changer as to public perceptions,here's hoping

Nat do u have any ideas.

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Your review makes it sound like Rickman is channeling Barbara Cartland. Especially your closing line.. " ......sprouting up like weeds inside the one we got but that's okay since this garden is wilted."

Or are you saying Kate is past her prime?


Thank you for all the reports. I have read and enjoyed all of them and look forward to several films I hadn't heard of. (Dreading your report of Miss Julie though. I thought that looked good, but I don't think you liked it.)

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Oy, Kate Winslet. Those years gunning for the Oscar really messed you up. Now it's one of the two: role for the paycheck, role for the prestige Oscar bait.

Where's "my" Kate Winslet, the one who didn't care about working for the Oscar, who preferred to challenge herself, to have fun and loosen up in a role, to transform herself and create a really cool performance?

Is that Kate Winslet gone for good? And all that's left is this pale comparison? Even Judi Dench and Helen Mirren make bolder choices. Hell, she makes Meryl look 200% more audacious.

And the stream of back-catalogue roles... Are these recent parts the best she can indeed get? She's FREAKING Kate Winslet! Fight for it!

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

I agree,i've no idea but i understand her being pissed about losing in 04 when she really did deserve it but i'd rather go 0 for 6 than have a make up prize,i hope her next 2 roles work out for her cos there's a dame in her somewhere.

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I love how uberly 'Kate Winslet' Kate Winslet looks... that everything else seems out of place.

Like how Brad Pitt looks so Brad Pitt in Fury. Like, are they even trying?!

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Mai

Mildred Pierce, Contagion, and Carnage were all excellent performances, not to mention totally different from one another. That was just a few years ago, so it's not like the Kate Winslet we all love is gone. I think she's simply in a temporary slump (which is something that ALL actors/actresses go through). She's gone through big changes in her personal life recently; perhaps she wasn't as focused on her work, which is understandable.

I read in a recent interview that she said she's ready to get back to "KW" basics and that her career is back on. My two cents: she took a break, choosing roles she could do in her sleep to keep her busy, and now she's ready to get back. Triple Nine and The Dressmaker sound incredibly challenging for her. The latter reminds me of those Aussie indies she did in the 90s. That should be a throwback to her free spirit. She'll definitely return with a vengeance. She does everything at her own pace.

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa


But Mildred Pierce was such a Kate Winslet-y choice... If it had been produced for the silver screen, it'd be the baitiest of the baits. Remake of a classic with KW playing the role that gave Joan Crawford her Oscar?

Carnage was different, sure. But it was a Pulitzer-prize winning play with an established auteur with a very Oscar friendly cast (Waltz, Foster, even John C Reilly). It didn't work out but that screamed 'Oscar buzz' when it was announced.

I'll give you Contagion. But that one was for the paycheck, I believe.

I need someone like Jane Campion to unsoften her edges again. She needs a gritty role. She needs to wake up, essentially, because it's been a snoozefest in the We love Kate Winslet club.

I'm always happy to see her in everything, but can't she at least drags us to more interesting/challenging/ambitious movies?

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

I just feel she hasn't excited me in about 10 yrs,i think she deserved her 08 oscar but for rev rd,still adore her but miss her more adventuress days,ALC seems unchallenging to me.

Didn't mean to KW bash,hey even J/moore & Kidman have taken pay cheques..

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

This film didn't come together in a satisfying way but I really liked all the actors and it certainly was fun to watch. It is classier than the recent Three Musketeer remakes, for instance.

September 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaveylow

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