Nathaniel R reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival
Despite the buzz from festivals usually circling around pre-sold films and major Oscar hopefuls, there are always minor gems to be found amongst the clutter which are still seeking distribution. Here are two I hope get picked up, a very accessible Irish boarding school drama (without the benefit of any big name to sell it) and an American indie starring Oscar winner Holly Hunter.
(Dir. Katherine Dieckmann, US)
Take a look at that still above. Now look way to your out of focus far right. See the girl in pink tank and jean shorts? That's Carrie Coon (Gone Girl, The Leftovers), one of the best actresses working who is still not a household name or an Emmy or Oscar nominee! But, yes, movie still providers to festival guides, Holly Hunter is the draw here. She plays Darcy Baylor, a bohemian mother of meager means (a Holly specialty - see also Thirteen) who lost her only child to suicide years before the film begins. She has never quite been the same and her fierce best friend (Carrie Coon), her best friend's girlfriend (Andrene Ward-Hammond who is also in Loving this year) and her ex-boyfriend (a soulful Kim Coates from Sons of Anarchy) are concerned about her all over again when a couple of chance encounters reveal something she didn't know about the day he died. Though the plot can be (okay is) convoluted, the writing is otherwise strong with well defined characters, great conversations (it's partially a road trip movie), and a ineffable central arc that Holly Hunter has no trouble selling because she is Holly Hunter and goddamnit we don't appreciate her enough. Though there are a couple of bumpy patches in this road with wonky cuts, shots, and transitions -- perhaps budget trouble? -- and that aforementioned convoluted story might be difficult if you're not into the actresses. But if you aren't, your loss! I could have watched these characters/actors for another hour. I'll take a spinoff series with Carrie and her lesbian lover please! B/B-
(Dir. John Butler, Ireland)
This Irish boarding school drama about a redhead student who cares nothing for sports at a rugby-mad school is sweet goodhearted fun. It risks being a little 'This is a Teen Movie!' annoying and unrealistic in its construction (complete with occasionally snarky narration) but the friendship at its center between music-loving Ned (Fionn O'Shea) and strong and silent rugby star Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) is really well done and fills up the heart of this accessible mainstream charmer about "otherness." The undervalued / always terrific Andrew Scott (Pride) plays the gay teacher who encourages Ned & Conor in their odd couple friendship and their off-sport pursuits. You know we've come a long way when a movie with a rather large LGBT element is not even listed with a key word of LGBT in the festival guide! (Director John Butler made one previous feature called The Bachelor Weekend which we reviewed a couple of years ago which also starred Andrew Scott. He's made a leap forward with this second feature.) B