TIFF Day 05: Michelle Williams vs. Michelle Williams

Guess who wins?


I was very excited for my 9:30 screening this morning, the latest from Kelly Reichardt, who made the minimalist-but-affecting Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. Meek’s Cutoff is her third film, and second starring Michelle Williams, and she goes back to frontier times, following three couples who’ve been promised great things await them in the west, even though the river they cross in the opening scene is the last water they’ll see. It feels authentic (and exhausting! And dirty), but it’s deadly boring, even when they capture a lurking native with the hopes he’ll lead them to water.

Reichardt’s quiet, sit-back-and-watch approach makes for some beautiful, dusty, sun-cracked landscapes, but overall works better in a contemporary setting. Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano and an overdoing it Bruce Greenwood make for a decent cast, but since their roles consist of walking and worrying, they don’t have much to do (except for Greenwood, who speechifies through his crazy prospector beard). I think it’s fair to call the film a disappointment, to the point where I’ve dropped my Wednesday evening plans to see her interviewed by Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, who I saw at the screening, then outside the theatre, and decided not to ask how she felt about the movie. I don’t envy her.

The reason I wanted to come to TIFF this year is Blue Valentine, which along with The Kids Are All Right had unanimous raves coming out of Sundance in January. Williams, acquitting herself much better to this century, and Ryan Gosling are a couple we meet as their relationship is unraveling. The movie flips back and forth between when they met and now—no, not like (500) Days of Summer—making for two completely different acting showcases. The past scenes are charming and endearing—Gosling especially, even while wielding a ukulele—and the present ones are gut-wrenchingly sad. Oscar buzz is afoot, and rightfully.

A surprising, invigourating shot in a festival full of dour near-misses was Kaboom, from Gregg Araki. I knew going in that he can do comedy—Smiley Face was amazing—but is just as apt to go bleak-as-shit (Mysterious Skin!). A bizarre mash-up of teen sex comedy and sci-fi horror, it follows a pair of gay best friends (dreamy, overcoiffed Thomas Dekker and Haley Bennett, a sassier Emily VanCamp) as they muddle their way through college. Smith is having nightmares and sleeping with a girl (Juno Temple) despite having a crush on his male roommate; Stella has hooked up with a girl who appears also to be a witch. Men in animal masks are stalking Smith but he doesn’t know why; the answer is a combination of cults, the supernatural and, you know, the apocalypse (of course). It’s entertaining, funny, hot and weird and man did I need it.

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