By John H. Foote
By Sunday in previous years most of the big Hollywood films have screened, but this year it seems an effort was made to keep them screening through the second half of the festival. Personally, I think it is terrific.
Today started early with Judy, the biopic about the last year in the life of icon Judy Garland, followed by a second biopic, sort of, with Tom Hanks in the lovely A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. Then saw the fast paced, kick ass Hustlers, with Jennifer Lopez heading a cast of strippers out to rip off some Wall Street types.
All in all, a solid day at the movies.
Let me be clear, in every possible way Renée Zellweger elevates this film to a level greater than it deserves. The actress inhabits the role with every fibre of her being, seeming to have Garland attached to her very soul. The actress is making a comeback of sorts, having walked away from movies for far too long. She had a great run in 1996-2003, giving award worthy performances in Jerry Maguire (1996), Nurse Betty (2000), Bridget Jones Diary (2001), Chicago (2002) finally winning an Oscar for Supporting Actress in Cold Mountain (2003). She is sensational as Garland, by this point in her life an alcoholic, the impact of the pills she was fed have ravaged her, but when she picks up a microphone to sing, she clearly goes over the rainbow to great heights. Zellweger soars as Garland doing the finest work of her career, and appears headed to the Oscar race. The film? Not so much. Zellweger IS the film, without her they have nothing. The story begins with Garland broke, kicked out of her hotel for an unpaid account, bringing her to the door of an ex-husband so the kids have a roof over their head. She takes a job in England, the only one she can get because she is too difficult to work with. Stricken with crippling anxiety and paranoia she can barely get to the stage some nights, yet the moment the microphone is in her hand she is alive, the star she always was. Flashbacks show how studio chief Louis B. Mayer bullied and terrorized the young Judy, plying her with drugs to lose weight, pills to sleep, pills to stay awake, all which wreak havoc on her. We come to understand why the adult Judy is as she is. Zellweger portrays her as arrogant, needy and pathetic but her genius is that we feel for her. This might be the year’s very best performance and what is uncanny is that Zellweger in real life looks nothing like Garland, but here with limited make up, lighting and shading, the positioning of her body, she becomes Garland before our eyes. Oscar awaits.
High octane fun based on a true story, the film speaks to the empowerment of women, despite criminal behaviour. Though the trailers suggest Jennifer Lopez is the lead, she is not. Constance Wu is the lead in the film and she is wonderful as a rookie stripper who becomes fast friends with Ramona (Lopez) the big draw at the club. Together they devise a plan to make their Wall Street customers pay, racking up untold thousands on the men’s credit cards while they lay passed out from a drug cocktail the girls give them. More girls are brought into the circle, more men are robbed but are powerless to say anything. Eventually the law comes calling, though they fear the girls as much as anyone. Wu is superb in her first major role after Crazy Rich Asians (2018), creating a lovely chemistry with the confident Lopez. Each is vulnerable while being dangerous to the men who lust after them. Lopez gives a commanding, near towering performance as Ramona, the brains behind it all. Not art in any way, but great, fast paced fun.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”