Skip to content

#TIFF22 Reviews: No Bears (Special Presentations)

September 19, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 8th to 18th.

The latest film from the currently imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi, No Bears is a work of meta filmmaking that weaves together two narratives. Panahi casts himself as a filmmaker who is directing his latest work remotely from a small village just over the Turkish border, with his assistant director Reza (Reza Heydari) clandestinely delivering him hard drives containing the footage in the dead of night.

In the film-within-a-film that Panahi is directing over video calls through a spotty internet connection, a couple (played by Mina Kavani and Bakhtiyar Panjeei) are trying to secure fake passports to escape to France. The film takes on yet another level and becomes even more of an exercise in meta storytelling, as Panahi’s character gets bombarded by the local villagers for a photo of a young couple that they believe he has taken.

The film takes on a farcical quality at this point as the various locals confront him, with Panahi – as both filmmaker and character – playfully challenging the village’s adherence to traditional religious customs that subjugate women. If No Bears takes a little while to reveal itself, the film works as an entertaining and at times powerful semi-autobiographical work from Panahi. It constantly blurs the line between fact and fiction, in its own way becoming a statement on his arrest and how he has been judged for his boundary-pushing art.

In its best moments, such as a powerful nighttime meeting between Panahi and his AD at the amorphous land border where human smugglers carry people across, and an equally memorable scene later on that gives the film its amusing yet haunting title, No Bears subtly presents itself as a statement on how superstition and stories are used to keep us in fear. What a message from a filmmaker who has been unfairly locked up by his country’s government for his art.

#TIFF22 Review: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (TIFF Docs)

September 19, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 8th to 18th.

Nan Goldin is an artist and photographer who has set her sights on holding Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family to account for creating and pushing the drug OxyContin, and fuelling the opioid crisis ravaging America. Goldin’s story’s is told in the poetically titled documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, with director Laura Poitras (the fearless filmmaker behind Citizenfour) weaving together thrilling footage of Goldin’s art protests in the wings of museums bearing the Sackler name, with an engaging biography of her life and career told through a selection of images from her body of work.

Through her activist group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), which she founded after battling her own addiction to the painkillers, Goldin is determined to expose the Sackler family’s role in creating the opioid crisis and continuing to profit off of it. The family has positioned themselves as philanthropists by donating money and lending their name to museums, including ones displaying Goldin’s work. It’s the naming rights that Goldin is protesting when she stages “die-ins” at museums like The Met, as captured in the documentary’s thrillingly on-the-fly opening scene, that include unfurling banners and dropping leaflets and empty pill bottles before lying down on the ground.

Through interviews with Goldin and archival footage, Poitras takes us back in time to show how Goldin was at the forefront of New York’s underground art scene in the 1970s and ’80s, including her radical and controversial photo collection The Ballad of Sexual Dependency that made waves when it was first published. Poitras explores Goldin’s close connections to the queer community, and how government inaction on the AIDS epidemic ties into what is happening now in regards to the opioid crisis, with P.A.I.N.’s demonstrations being inspired by those of the gay activist group ACT UP.

It’s a testament to both the filmmaking and Goldin as a subject that the two halves of All the Beauty and the Bloodshed are nearly equally compelling, with Poitras doing an excellent job of weaving the different story threads together into a single compelling narrative. The emotional centre of the film is the story of Goldin’s older sister Barbara, who was institutionalized and died by suicide, with the artist unpacking a history of family trauma and how it has influenced her work as both artist and activist.

Right before it screened at TIFF, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed was announced as the winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at Venice, making it only the second documentary to be awarded that festival’s top prize (following Sacro GRA in 2013). After seeing the film, it’s easy to see why it won. This is a powerful documentary that easily ranks among the best of the year.

#TIFF22 Review: The Banshees of Inisherin (Special Presentations)

September 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

The Banshees of Inisherin, the latest brilliantly written character study from writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), tells the story of two friends; farmer Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and fiddler Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who live on a small island just off the coast of Ireland.

The two are drinking buddies who hang out at the local pub. Except one day, Colm chooses to ignore Pádraic when he comes around to see if he wants to go for their afternoon pint. Pádraic is confused as ever, but Colm explains that he has decided that he simply no longer likes Pádraic, and doesn’t want to be friends anymore. He is bored of their idle chatter, and wants to spend his time composing music instead.

Did something happen between them? The brilliance of McDonagh’s film, which is infused with pitch-black Irish humour, is that it keeps us guessing, as Pádraic gets driven crazy by trying to figure out Colm’s motivations. Pádraic doggedly pursues a reconciliation with his friend, but Colm is adamant about wanting to be left alone, and starts threatening self-injury. Through this simple but compelling setup, McDonagh has given us another rich, multilayered, allegorical work that is darkly funny until it becomes tragic and heartbreaking.

The film is carried by a pair of great performances from McDonagh’s In Bruges co-stars Farrell and Gleeson in an exceptional reunion. Farrell is at the top of his game here as a man whose own insecurities and resentments are unleashed due to the rejection of his friend. Meanwhile, Gleeson keeps everything internal in a measured performance that is always intriguing to watch.

The small ensemble is rounded out by Kerry Condon as Pádraic‘s sister who lives with him and tries to act as mediator, and Barry Keoghan as his other drinking buddy Dominic, who is known to be a “bit dim.” Keoghan especially leaves his mark on the film, taking a character who could have simply been annoying or creepy and bringing a level of sympathy to his portrayal, while also being incredibly funny in the socially awkward role.

Recalling the Coen Brothers at their most philosophical and existential, McDonagh’s ingenious screenplay for The Banshees of Inisherin offers many layers to unpack in its exploration of male friendship and ego, while offering deeper themes about what makes a meaningful friendship or even a meaningful life. Is “mindless chatter” enough, and is it okay to want something more out of a friendship if that’s all the other person is offering?

The film further comes alive thanks to a mesmerizing musical score by Carter Burwell, as well as impressive cinematography by Ben Davis, who captures the beauty of the Irish landscapes and frames some compellingly composed scenes between the characters. What a great and richly rewarding little film this is.

Public Screenings:

Monday, September 12th – 6:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Tuesday, September 13th – 1:30 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre

Thursday, September 15th – 9:00 PM at Scotiabank 1

Saturday, September 17th – 8:30 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre

#TIFF22 Review: The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Gala Presentations)

September 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Director Peter Farrelly made the switch to making “serious” films in 2018 with Green Book, a career pivot that (controversially) won him the People’s Choice Award at TIFF and subsequently the Oscar for Best Picture. Farrelly continues in this trajectory with The Greatest Beer Run Ever, another entertaining period piece that mixes comedy and drama to retell a somewhat unlikely true story.

Set in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, the film is based on the true story of John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron), a young and aimless Marine Corps veteran from New York who decides to bring American beer to his buddies serving in Vietnam, as a way to let them know that the country has their back. Spurred by the deaths of several friends, it starts as a drunken idea in a bar inspired by one too many beers, after confronting his sister (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) at an anti-war protest.

But, egged on by the World War II veteran bartender (Bill Murray, in an appealing bit part) at his local neighbourhood hangout, Chickie is determined to follow through as a way to prove himself. He talks his way onto a ship lugging a duffle bag filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon, and lands in Vietnam. Much of the film follows him as he treks through active combat zones to track down his buddies and deliver them the goods, getting around by letting people assume that he is CIA and actually there on classified business, with his real raison d’être being too ludicrous to believe.

If the biggest criticism of Green Book was for its slightly simplistic racial politics, the same charges will inevitably be laid against The Greatest Beer Run Ever for its treatment of Vietnam. But Farrelly’s film does acknowledge that this was a messy war, and the role America played in it was complicated, to say the least. Charlie’s journey involves seeing this for himself, including with the help of the film’s most interesting supporting character, Arthur Coates (Russel Crowe), an American photojournalist who is documenting the carnage for Look magazine.

While The Greatest Beer Run Ever is content to start off as a sort of buddy comedy built around an absurdly amusing premise, it crucially becomes more serious as it goes along. Efron is very good in the leading role, offering a genial portrayal of a naive slacker who is forced to mature through the ultimately sobering journey that he puts himself on. Farrelly’s latest will prove divisive, maybe even more so than his last one. But the tonal shifts of The Greatest Beer Run Ever mostly worked for me, and I once again enjoyed the ride that Farrelly takes us on, through to the bittersweet lessons of the final few scenes.

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 13th – 6:00 PM at Roy Thomson Hall

Wednesday, September 14th – 9:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Thursday, September 15th – 9:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

#TIFF22 Review: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Special Presentations)

September 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

With Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Rian Johnson returns with a big budget follow up to his 2019 surprise hit Knives Out, and I wouldn’t think of spoiling what transpires, but I’m also not going to bury the lede; I did not love this film, an opinion that will surely put me squarely in the critical minority.

Produced by Netflix, who forked over $469 million for the rights to develop at least two more movies, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a less clever and more obvious film that sets the series up as an Agatha Christie-inspired anthology of unconnected stories, with Daniel Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc as the one through-line. Blanc is back to investigate a new mystery this time around, which centres around a different ensemble cast of characters.

The setup is simple; tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) sends out a collection of puzzle boxes inviting a few of his closest allies, a group of public figures dubbed “the disruptors,” to his private Greek island. Among them are politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), social media influencer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Twitch streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Bron’s former partner Cassandra Brand (Janelle Monáe). But there is potentially trouble afoot, and Blanc once again senses “foul play.”

While I maybe didn’t love the first Knives Out as much as some, I still liked it. It was an enjoyable and contained murder mystery that featured some clever writing and enjoyable performances. If the first film was a bit over-the-top but still grounded in a slightly self-aware campiness, this one often feels like a sitcom, with its high-pitched performances and obvious humour. The story is set during the pandemic as a way to try and ground it in the real world, but the obligatory jokes about masks and Zoom meetings feel instantly stale.

Yes, the first Knives Out felt a bit obvious as a post-2016 political satire, but it was at least effective; the politics of Glass Onion are completely on-the-nose and about as deep as what you might find on TikTok (as a satire of the ultra-rich, Triangle of Sadness is much more scathing and entertaining). Johnson is also so obsessed with his own sense of self-importance that the entire film has a smugness to it that I found irritating after a while.

The entire cast also overacts in an ironic way that is meant to be funny, but it’s a very hard thing to pull off, and they don’t always succeed. Craig does continue to amuse as the Southern-accented detective, though it’s a role that I imagine could wear thin depending on how long they choose to continue this franchise (not dissimilar to how Johnny Depp’s initially inspired portrayal of Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films grew tired after the third go-around).

There is maybe a tighter edit of this movie that is at least more fun, but Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery runs for a whopping, wholly self-indulgent 139 minutes, spending way too long on its buildup in the first act. There is about fifty minutes of this film that is all setup, and it takes too long to really get going. Johnson’s writing is also never quite as smart or clever as it seems to think it is (“it’s so dumb, it’s brilliant!” a character exclaims at one point, to which Craig’s Blanc retorts “no, it’s just dumb,” in a rare moment of self-awareness).

The film is also surprisingly easy to piece together once it shows its main hand, and if you did miss anything, it literally spends the second half over-explaining everything to us. There are some fun reveals, sure, and your mileage will definitely vary. But Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is bloated and way too long, with ridiculous twists and ironic overacting. Maybe I’m just tired from over a week of TIFF, but I found the whole thing to be more exhausting than entertaining.

Public Screenings:

Saturday, September 10th – 6:00 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Sunday, September 11th – 11:00 AM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Monday, September 12th – 9:30 PM at Scotiabank 2

Tuesday, September 13th – 6:00 PM at Ontario Place Cinesphere

Thursday, September 15th – 9:30 PM at Ontario Place Cinesphere

Friday, September 16th – 1:00 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre

Saturday, September 17th – 9:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

#TIFF22 Review: Women Talking (Special Presentations)

September 17, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Sarah Polley, whose previous trio of films Away from HerTake This Waltz and Stories We Tell are all in the established canon of celebrated Canadian cinema, makes her long awaited return to directing with Women Talking.

An adaptation of the Miriam Toews novel of the same name, the film is set in a Mennonite community, and unfolds as a solid conversation piece that follows the women in the religious colony as they come together to find a solution to the violent sexual assaults they have been experiencing at the hands of the men. Do they do nothing, leave the community, or stay and fight? It’s a constant back-and-forth that is taking place in an old barn, with limited time while the men are away, and no easy answers.

There is a pretty even split between what side the women are on, with some worried about angering God and threatening their salvation by leaving the colony, and others seeing no option but to flee or fight for their lives. Their conversation is being transcribed by August Epps (Ben Whishaw), a male teacher who has been brought in as a trusted listener. Since the women haven’t been taught to read or write, his job is to record the minutes of the meeting for historical record.

With much of the film confined to a single location, Women Talking does feel a bit stagey at times, though Polley finds a few ways to open up the material, including some lyrical, thematically relevant cutaway images of children playing. The film features decent cinematography by Luc Montpellier (who also shot Away from Her and Take This Waltz), though I have mixed feelings about the washed out colour grade that has been put on top of it, which makes the movie appear somewhat greyish and overly flat. But Polley’s film is still carried by very strong performances from its entire ensemble cast, including Whishaw’s sensitive work.

This is very much an ensemble piece, but the three standouts are Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy and Rooney Mara. Buckley’s Mariche and Foy’s Salome are the most combative and righteously angry members of the group, while Mara’s Ona is pregnant and worries about her unborn child, forming a close bond with Whishaw’s August. The film also balances the viewpoints of the elders like Agata (Judith Ivey), Greta (veteran Canadian actress Sheila McCarthy in a plum role), and Scarface Janz (Frances McDormand, who also produced the film and appears in what amounts to a cameo).

Polley’s screenplay, which she closely adapted from Toews’ book, also finds nuance in its discussions about what to do with the young boys and adolescent males in the community, and if they should be allowed to leave with them. The film acknowledges that they are just as much victims of misogynistic societal mindsets and patterns of behaviour, and there is still hope for them to turn out better with the right influences and education.

I do want to sit with this one for a little while longer and watch it again, but the excellent writing and performances of Women Talking definitely leave an impact, as does the powerful musical score by Icelandic composer Hildur Gu∂nadóttir.

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 13th – 6:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Wednesday, September 14th – 2:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Friday, September 16th – 8:30 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre

Saturday, September 17th – 6:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

#TIFF22 Review: Empire of Light (Special Presentations)

September 17, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Empire of Light, the latest film from writer-director Sam Mendes, is a solid period piece that also serves as a very personal work from the British filmmaker. It’s set in a seaside town in the 1980s, based on the time and place where he grew up, and tells a story that is loosely inspired by his own mother’s struggle with mental illness. What really sets the film apart, though, is the fact that much of it takes place inside an old movie theatre.

The main character is Hilary (Olivia Colman), a middle aged woman who works at the Empire selling concessions, under a manager (Colin Firth) who asks for sexual favours in his office. But things change with the arrival of Steven (Michael Ward), a young Black man who gets a job at the theatre. Hilary forms a bond with him, opening her eyes to the increasing racism that is prevalent in Thatcher’s England.

At the centre of Empire of Light is another incredible performance from Colman, who embodies the role of a somewhat eccentric woman with mental health challenges without veering into stereotype. It’s an empathetic portrayal, at times manic and other times quiet and introspective, with Colman doing an exceptional job of capturing the nuances between big confrontations and other scenes that play silently off her face. Ward delivers an engaging supporting performance, as his character tries to hide the impact that being made to feel like he doesn’t belong is having on him.

The story itself is a bit simple at times, and the screenplay can feel underdeveloped as a character study, with not all of its subplots being equally fleshed out. The film also keeps going a little too long at the end. But Mendes still stages some beautiful and stirring moments along the way. The main appeal of Empire of Light is seeing a movie that is primarily set inside an old Art Deco theatre. It’s largely focused on the collection of characters who work there, including a bittersweet role for Toby Jones as the projectionist in love with the process of loading film reels into the old projectors.

The production design of the theatre is wholly impressive, and a magical space to be immersed in. The film was shot by Roger Deakins, and his cinematography is expectedly gorgeous, with rich uses of colour including deep reds and golds. The visuals are complimented perfectly by a lovely musical score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, with the film’s mix of images and sound often working on a purely emotional level. As a love letter to old cinemas and the power of movies, Empire of Light serves as an effective and well-acted drama that is beautifully crafted on a technical level.

Public Screenings:

Monday, September 12th – 3:00 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Tuesday, September 13th – 3:00 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Saturday, September 17th – 5:00 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre

#TIFF22 Review: Bros (Special Presentations)

September 17, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Starring, co-written and executive produced by Billy Eichner, Bros is the first big romantic comedy from a major studio to focus on a gay couple, starring a cast of queer actors, and you know what? This is the R-rated gay rom-com we deserve; it’s raunchy and laugh out loud funny, yes, but also very sweet and perceptive about gay relationships and LGBTQ+ history. In short, it’s fantastic.

Eichner stars in the film as Bobby Lieber, an openly gay New Yorker who hosts a podcast called The 11th Brick at Stonewall (because we all know that it was a trans woman of colour who threw the first brick, so a gay white cis male probably threw the eleventh). Bobby is very opinionated and has a passion for queer history, which he is channeling into his work on New York City’s first LGBTQ+ history museum. He’s on a board that is made up of a colourful cast of characters spanning the broad spectrum of queer identities, leading to several amusing scenes where they are all jostling to be heard and struggle to agree on what figures should be included.

Bobby has closed himself off to the prospect of any sort of commitment or relationship, beyond the occasional no strings attached Grindr hookup. But this all changes when he meets Aaron Shepard (Luke MacFarlane) at a club. Aaron is an estate attorney who hangs out at the gym and is more into hockey and country music, putting him somewhat at odds with modern gay culture. He also has a strict no serious dating rule and is more into casual hookups, leading to a mix of emotions when him and Bobby actually start to enjoy spending more and more time together.

Directed and co-written by Nicholas Stoller, whose Forgetting Sarah Marshall was also a benchmark for the genre, the Judd Apatow-produced Bros follows the classic romantic comedy formula, and reminds us just how satisfying it can be when done right. The result is one of the best and most entertaining rom-coms in recent memory. While it’s easy to imagine the film having pretty broad appeal, it also feels refreshingly made with gay audiences in mind, as Eichner probes the minutiae of gay culture in ways that are both very funny and well-observed.

A major theme of the film is about challenging the catchphrase “love is love,” with Eichner’s Bobby seeing it as a slogan that was made up to appeal to the straights. He’s always quick to point out that homosexual relationships between two men are inherently different from heterosexual ones, with his point being that it’s okay to acknowledge that. Eichner’s script also touches on how the various groups that make up the LGBTQ+ community often struggle to get along, offering some biting critiques of how modern identity politics is designed to pit the different letters against each other.

Eichner’s acting and writing are equally strong, as he explores Bobby’s inherent insecurities around both his body image and not being a stereotypically masculine man. We get a lot of clever and witty dialogue, as well as a very heartfelt monologue that he delivers partway through. There’s even an original song co-written and performed by Eichner (fittingly, “Love is Not Love”) that finds the perfect balance between being funny and bittersweet, and deserves an Oscar nomination.

MacFarlane also delivers a hugely appealing performance as love interest Aaron, who is struggling with his own identity as a gay man who doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotype of one. It’s a testament to the strength of the lead characters and the writing that we become completely invested in their relationship by the end, and genuinely root for them during the rousing finale. I loved it.

Public Screenings:

Friday, September 9th – 9:45 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Saturday, September 10th – 12:30 PM at Roy Thomson Hall

Saturday, September 17th – 1:00 PM at Scotiabank 1

Saturday, September 17th – 9:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

#TIFF22 Review: Aftersun (Contemporary World Cinema)

September 16, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Paul Mescal, the breakout star of the Irish miniseries Normal People, delivers a poignant performance in the film Aftersun as a young father on vacation in Turkey. Calum (Mescal) is on holiday with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio). She is at that age where she is starting to be embarrassed by her dad but also inquisitively films him with her camcorder (her grainy home video footage opens the film) and asks questions about his own childhood.

They are staying at a resort, the sort of place that delivers everything you want from waterslides to karaoke right at your fingertips, but you can easily start to feel trapped in after a few days, a sense that slowly starts to creep in. This is a deeply personal feature debut for writer-director Charlotte Wells, with elements of the story based on her own father and childhood memories. At times the film recalls Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere with its patiently observed father-daughter story, moving at a relaxed pace that allows for many moments to linger and have a lasting impact.

The story is really about memory and how our perception of our parents, and our ability to view them as wholly human with their own emotional needs, changes as we grow up, and it does provide an emotional narrative through-line. That said, Wells works in some flashes to present day that didn’t quite work for me, and at times it feels like she is trying a little too hard to insert herself into the story. I understand what Wells is going for from an artistic perspective, but the scenes also take away a bit from the naturalism of the film.

The film predominantly works thanks to the strength of its completely believable performances. At the centre of it is Mescal’s sensitive and moving portrayal of a man in the throes of depression who is trying to hold it together for his daughter. He is matched by engaging work from newcomer Corio, who holds her own in dramatic scenes while bringing a curious, childlike nature to her character.

Public Screenings:

Monday, September 12th – 6:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Tuesday, September 13th – 3:15 PM at Scotiabank 13

Saturday, September 17th – 12:15 PM at Scotiabank 10

#TIFF22 Review: The People’s Joker (Midnight Madness)

September 16, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

The People’s Joker, which had its already infamous premiere at Midnight Madness the other night, is an ambitious art project that finds its creator Vera Drew messing around in the DC Comics universe to tell the story of her own journey of coming out as transgender. And the finished product is entirely its own thing, both a piece of transgressive, multimedia superhero fan fiction and a sincere queer coming of age story.

Inspired by the 2019 film Joker, The People’s Joker initially started its life as a re-edit before morphing into being its own original movie, created on a shoestring budget through an inventive mix of live-action, different styles of animation, green screens, and miniatures (it’s so unique that it’s almost impossible to even really grade the film on an objective level against anything else). Drew stars in the film as Joker the Harlequin, a trans woman living in a dystopian version of Gotham City where comedy has been made illegal.

She is battling an addiction to Smylex, a prescription inhaler pushed by pharmaceutical companies to make you smile more, spurred by not having her gender identity affirmed by her mother (Lynn Downey) as a child (her character is played in flashbacks by Griffin Kramer). The story follows her as she starts an anti-comedy club with the Penguin (Nathan Faustyn), and enters into a potentially toxic relationship with another Joker, Mr. J (Kane Distler), who has “damaged” tattooed across his forehead.

Aside from being a visual collage that really leans into its scrappy, DIY aesthetic, the main narrative through-line of The People’s Joker is actually an extended monologue by Drew about her coming out and transitioning process. She has clearly put a lot of heart into the film, and it sounds strange to say, but the story is actually somewhat bittersweet at times in addition to being funny. It’s an audacious film that does so many things and mixes so many visual styles, that it’s ultimately like nothing else you’ve seen, and it feels like a cult classic in the making.

At this point, it would be impossible to keep this merely as a review of the film itself, considering the events that have transpired around it since the premiere on Tuesday night. Right after the Midnight Madness screening, it was announced that Warner Bros. had mounted a legal challenge to the film due to copyright issues, forcing TIFF to cancel the remaining public screenings in an unfortunate if not entirely unexpected turn of events.

Though what I saw was a work that should be thoroughly protected by fair use and parody law, the fact that the major studio who owns this IP has now put their crosshairs on The People’s Joker only adds to the anarchic, punk rock narrative around it. Seeing it at Midnight Madness for the first but hopefully not the last time was an experience that I’m sure everyone in the room will fondly remember, though I do hold out hope that the film will somehow find a way to live on, even as an underground work that gets clandestinely passed around. It deserves to be seen.

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 13th – 11:59 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre

%d bloggers like this: