Reviews

September 19, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “The Good House,” “Where Is Anne Frank” & “Official Competition”

 

THE GOOD HOUSE (DreamWorks – TBD):  By my count, it’s been two full decades since Sigourney Weaver was at the center of a feature film (that was Heartbreakers, where she shared the spotlight with Jennifer Love Hewitt), and that says an unfortunate amount about the American movie industry.  So even though Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky’s The Good House is mostly unexceptional, it’s a genuine pleasure to see Weaver with a film’s steering wheel in her hands.  The film itself (written by the directors with Thomas Bezucha, from a novel by Ann Leary) revolves around Hildy Good, who until recently was the leading real estate agent in Wendover, a small but desirable seaside Massachusetts town.  Hildy is also a high-functioning alcoholic, but although her children have pressured her into rehab, she’s in denial both to herself and to us, through frequent fourth-wall-breaking asides.  The Good House follows a well-worn path by ramping up the difficulty of Hildy’s attempts to insist that everything is just fine, even as her alcohol intake increases and she faces competition from a former protege (Kathryn Erbe) that threatens her ordered life.  The plotting only veers from the predictable, alas, when it becomes overly melodramatic.  The gifts of the film are elsewhere.  Weaver is as assured, funny and emotionally engaging as she’s ever been, and she’s surrounded by a great supporting cast, with the first among equals being Kevin Kline, whose New England accent may falter, but whose timing and warmth are unerring.  Others include Morena Baccarin as a town newcomer, Rob Delaney as an old friend, David Rasche as Hildy’s ex-husband, and Rebecca Henderson and Molly Brown as her concerned daughters.  The Good House is standard-issue but rewarding, with a great star performance from an actress who’s gone too long between opportunities.

WHERE IS ANNE FRANK?  (no distrib):  Toronto featured not one but two animated films that touched on the Holocaust, and Ari Folman’s Where Is Anne Frank? was the more imaginative, if not wholly successful.  Folman wanted to find a way to relate the Anne Frank story to current world issues, and especially one that would appeal to younger audiences.  So the main character of the film isn’t Anne Frank herself, but Kitty (voiced by Ruby Stokes), the made-up friend to whom Anne addressed her diary entries.  Through a lightning strike and some magic, Kitty comes to life in the present day with no idea that she isn’t real or of what happened after Anne ceased to write in her diary.  The story follows her on her journeys in Amsterdam and beyond, with flashbacks to the events of the diary (Anne’s voice is provided by Emily Carey) as Kitty makes new friends–there’s a complicated set of rules for when she’s visible to others–and learns about Anne’s fate and what came afterward.  Eventually, Kitty becomes involved with protests for the rights of contemporary immigrants who have to live in hiding from the authorities, which feel despite Folman’s best intentions somewhat forced.  Where is Anne Frank? is on more rewarding ground when it sticks to Kitty’s story and her growing understanding of what was happening when she wasn’t on the page.  Folman, whose work includes Waltz With Bashir, has provided striking and unusual animation, mixing visual elements and shifting from harsh realism to surreal fantasy.  His film is valuable even if imperfect.

OFFICIAL COMPETITION (no distrib):  A biting satire of power plays in general, and especially among the insular personalities of film directors and stars.  The clever title, referring both to the festival hopes of the film-within-the-film and the psychological wars among the participants, provides a taste of what Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn (and co-writer Andres Duprat) have in their sights.  Lola (Penelope Cruz) is the director of an upcoming film called “Rivalry,” based on what we’re told is a Nobel-prize winning book, about the lethal competition between two brothers.  As the brothers, she casts the movie star Felix (Antonio Banderas) and the celebrated theatre actor and teacher Ivan (Oscar Martinez).  All three are wildly egomaniacal in their own ways, and all are psychological game-players, and as desperately insecure as they are arrogant.  The structure of Official Competition is perhaps a bit too dry and stylized for its own good, largely built around lengthy rehearsal sequences, but there are more than a few moments to savor (at one point, in order to foster inhabiting the moment, Lola has the actors rehearse directly between a 5-ton boulder on a creaking crane), and the climactic payoff is as effective as it is nasty.  The trio of actors seem to be having a ball zinging their own profession and the vanity it affords.  Official Competition is probably most effective for a specialized audience, but that target group should enjoy it greatly.

 



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on screened.com and the-burg.com. In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."