TIFF ’14 – Day 3: Bad Mothers

Hipster Amsterdam? No, Nova Scotia.
Heartbeat: Hipster Amsterdam? No, Nova Scotia.

If there is a sticking topic in this edition of TIFF is bad mothers. You can find them everywhere: In American dramas about the dangers of the internet, Danish tragedies, indie flicks, British comedies, Xavier Dolan movies, you name it. Mommy issues galore.

Men, Women and Children (USA, 2014): Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking) has managed to make six films in ten years (Woody Allen levels of proficiency). Not only that: All his movies are original material. There are no superheroes or sequels in his filmography. Also, the mood in his work has grown increasingly downbeat. In fact, his latest –Men, Women and Children– is downright depressing. This is an ensemble piece of teenagers and adults dealing with sex and social media, more often than not, simultaneously.

Set in Austin, Texas (although could be Anywhere, USA), Men, Women and Children follows a group of teens and their parents as they navigate uncharted waters. Some, like Jennifer Garner, have transformed their home into a veritable police-state to prevent the dangers of the internet to reach them. Others, like Adam Sandler (who seems desperate to reinvent himself), are so permissive, their fifteen year-olds already have a serious sexual dysfunction going on.

Some of the storylines are somewhat trite (also, a middle ground is sorely missed), but Men, Women and Children gets the point across. Raising kids is a minefield, particularly if they have access to a computer (did you know there is a support group for anorexic girls named thinspiration?) The drama provides no answers, but strongly suggest the only remotely successful way to rear teens is to show them the healthy way to deal with sexuality and hope they make the right choices. Three prairie dogs with no kids, high-fiving each other.

Shelter (USA, 2014): The perennially underused actor Paul Bettany has changed gears and now brings his first film as a director to TIFF. It’s called Shelter and stars his wife, the lovely Jennifer Connelly. All fairly normal up to here, no? Well, turns out Bettany is a blonder version of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, misery-porn tendencies included.

The poor Connelly must put up with all sorts of indignities (worse than that scene in Requiem for a Dream) as Hannah, the prettiest panhandler in Manhattan. A serious heroin habit render Hannah homeless and now she must adopt extreme measures to survive. Hannah befriends and falls in love with Tahir (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain), an illegal immigrant from Nigeria with a super-sad story of his own. Together they face Hannah’s drug dependency, social services, hospital policies, winter and a business-savvy doorman.

Shelter is one of those films in which if something can go wrong, it does. Bettany puts Connelly through the wringer and yet it’s hard to believe someone as smart and attractive as the actress couldn’t find any other way to survive (her beauty is a plot point, at least). Kudos for taking the do-it-yourself route, but the Bettany-Connelly household needs a new hobby. I heard pottery is fun. Two sad, cold, flea-infested prairie dogs with perfect eyebrows.

Heartbeat (Canada, 2014): This movie should come with a warning: “DANGER: High levels of whimsy and hipsterism”. A bit of affectation can be a wonderful thing (see Wes Anderson movies), but without substance to back it up it becomes annoying. For about 3/4 of its lenght, Heartbeat thrives on that: Interchangeable ballads of high sucrose content, overly cute animation underlining pretty obvious emotional beats, hipster lifestyle concentrated… It’s all too much.

The story doesn’t help: Justine (singer/songwriter Tanya Davis), a classic wallflower, has been just dumped by her boyfriend, an artiste. It dawns on Justine she hates her job, has nothing in common with her best friends (who just had a baby, pushing her aside further) and can’t even sing her cute songs in public, so change is dire. Luck has it, a cute girl and a group of people right up her alley are right around the corner waiting for her.

Justine’s efforts to take control of her own life are properly depicted. Alas, her homosexuality-a major character development- is barely established. It’s a “oh, I think I’m gay now” kind of discovery. Towards the end, Heartbeat remembers to breathe and becomes more bearable, but there is barely a drop of spontaneity in the entire piece. Two prairie dogs… wait, one just moved to Portland. One prairie dog.

It occurred to me that…

… tensions are running high at the press room. I actually heard one journalist tell another “you were rude to my friend.” Not sure if they “took it outside”.

Tomorrow: Roger Waters, still milking that Wall.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

4 thoughts on “TIFF ’14 – Day 3: Bad Mothers”

  1. So you’re saying they should have a special brunch-oriented screening of Heartbeat? I’ll check it out on my next Air Canada flight.

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