Tag Archives: Julia Hart

Stargirl

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the new Michael Cera, Graham Verchere.

I know, I know, where has the time gone if we’re already putting Michael Cera out to pasture. Well, technically he’s going to be the new Jon Cryer and Jon Cryer’s going to be the new Steve Buscemi and so on.

Anyway, that was a bit of a digression and I apologize. We first saw Graham Verchere at a film festival in Montreal where he was starring in a horror movie (a good one) called Summer of 84. And now here he is all grown up on Disney+, working for the very talented director Julia Hart, who we first saw at a film festival in Austin, alongside Giancarlo Esposito, whom we also met at SXSW, albeit the year before, directing a movie that was called This Is Your Death at the time and later got renamed rather lamely, The Show. Anyway, this was another digression because we’re already seeing film festivals (including SXSW) cancelled due to corona virus and we may lose our whole festival season, which is sad because it’s where we’ve discovered so many gems over the years.

Anyway, if Graham Verchere is the new Michael Cera then I suppose that makes his costar Grace VanderWaal the new Emma Stone (move over, you old cow). Which isn’t a bad comparison, really, because VanderWaal is both luminous and a talented singer. But Stargirl is no Superbad, and that’s not a (super) bad thing. While my generation settled for movies where boys were obsessed with popularity and sex and girls where afterthoughts at best (and often just a means to an end), Stargirl is a movie that embraces awkwardness and gives it a starring role.

Leo (Verchere) moved to a new town with his mom after his dad died. His sartorial tribute to his dearly departed father made Leo a target for bullies, so he learned to keep his head down and fit in. This all changes around his 16th birthday when a new girl, Stargirl (VanderWaal), starts attending class and soon disrupts the whole school. Stargirl is the kind of girl who can completely dismantle a marching band. Well, technically one lonely boy who falls out of step can dismantle a marching band, but Stargirl is the cause and the crush either way. She’s weird from the barrettes in her hair to the pompoms on her shoes, and startlingly, she’s unashamed. She owns her oddness in a way that is immediately fascinating to all, and her penchant for ukulele serenades is not just tolerated but celebrated, propelling her toward not just popularity but a spot on the cheer-leading squad. Sure it’s for the losingest football team in the history of sports, but still. Even her uniform outshines the rest. And it’s okay! Have these same kids who once bullied Leo for his porcupine tie are somehow woke enough to embrace Stargirl without a trace a jealousy.

At least for a while. Don’t worry: kids today can still be dicks. Interestingly, Stargirl is more than just a manic pixie dream girl – sure she casts a magical spell on everyone, but she has her own inner workings, her own growth, her own arc.

Stargirl is a John Hughes movie for the modern age – without all the racism.

TIFF18: Female Voices

I am proud to say that the Toronto International Film Festival has been at the forefront of committing to diversity and gender parity in its films. Everyone with half a brain is doing it this year, but TIFF’s been doing it for a while. They have shown us repeatedly that screening a higher proportion of female-directed films doesn’t affect the overall quality of the films shown at all. They have continued to curate fantastic films no matter who’s in the director’s chair. It’s just that programmers have to dig harder to unearth gems that aren’t always backed by studios. For every Wonder Woman or A Wrinkle In Time, there are dozens of indie films with hardly any attention, just waiting for someone smart enough to see it for what it is (Julia Hart’s Fast Color comes to mind as a recent example).

This year at TIFF, 34% of films are helmed by women. A few to look out for:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller directs Melissa McCarthy in this movie about a sad sack writer (Lee Israel) who can’t get any work so she turns to forgery to pay her rent.

High Life: Claire Denis directs Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, and Mia Goth in a sci-fi film about a bunch of criminals who get sent into space for an experiment on human reproduction that of course goes wrong because IT’S IN SPACE and then they just have to struggle to be, well, not dead IN SPACE. Despite the caps lock, I honestly cannot wait to see this one.

Galveston: We’ve already seen this one, so we can recommend it wholeheartedly. Mélanie Laurent directs Ben Foster and Elle Fanning in a real doozie of a crime thriller, with a distinctly European flavour despite its very American setting.

Destroyer: Karyn Kusama directs Nicole Kidman as an undercover agent who has to reconnect with the gang member she once worked, a situation that ended in life-altering tragedy. There’s already Oscar buzz about Kidman’s performance.

The Weekend: Toronto-born writer-director Stella Meghie directs Sasheer Zamata in this film about a stand-up comedian who gets embroiled in a weird love-triangle with her ex and his new girlfriend on an awkward weekend away.

Quincy: Who better to (co)direct the documentary about Quincy Jones than his talented daughter, Rashida? It’s sure to be an intimate portrait of an influential man, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.

A Million Little Pieces: After James Frey’s “autobiography” got a lambasting from Queen Oprah for its inauthenticity (read: fabrication, read: lies), this screenplay cooled its heels while the furor died down and apparently Hollywood thinks we’re as ready for it now as we’ll ever be. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the “Frey” character and his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson directs him and a cast including Charlie Hunnam, Billy Bob Thornton, and Juliette Lewis.

Where Hands Touch: The crazy-talented writer-director Amma Asante tells the story MV5BZDIxNjIwNjktZTQzNS00ODI1LTkyZGItNDhkYjJlM2FhODcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,690,1000_AL_of a biracial teenage girl struggling to survive in Nazi Germany, starring Amandla Stenberg and George Mackay.

The Kindergarten Teacher: Sara Colangelo’s film already has tremendous buzz coming out of Sundance. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a teacher (duh) who becomes obsessed with a young student she believes may be a child prodigy (is that redundant? I think adult prodigies are just, you know, educated).

The Land of Steady Habits: Nicole Holofcener directs Ben Mendelsohn in this film about a man who has everything but still feels vaguely dissatisfied so he leaves his job and family and ends up down a rabbit hole of regret.

So, yes, it’s entirely possible to feast on female-directed films alone at TIFF, and leave feeling fully sated. But before you go, there are a couple other initiatives you should know about.

  1. Via Brie Larson, who was herself a director at TIFF last year, the festival announced a commitment toward media inclusion. They accredited 20% more journalists this year to bolster their under-represented numbers. I absolutely believe that female critics are essential to female-directed films being seen and appreciated, and I want and need all voices to be heard and represented. Love this initiative.
  2. TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills, and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera, with a focus on mentorship, skills development, media literacy, and activity for young people. Join the movement!
  3. TIFF’s Festival street will host the Share Her Journey rally on Saturday, September 8th. Everyone who’s remotely able to should come fill the streets (King St. West between University Ave. and Peter St.) and talk about the inequality plaguing the industry. Sign up here to live-stream the event if you can’t make it – beginning at 10am we’ll hear from Mia Kirshner, co-founder of #AfterMeToo, the above-mentioned Amma Asante, and many others.

 

Thanks for helping make this the best TIFF yet – because movies only matter when everyone’s represented.

 

Miss Stevens

Miss Stevens is a 29 year old high school English teacher taking 3 students on a weekend away for drama club. Student Sam (Anthony Quintal) is bright and sensitive and dedicated. Margot (Lili Reinhart) is studious and uptight. Billy (Timothee Chalamet) is “having trouble caring about a lot of things” – a kid with behavioural problems Miss Stevens is supposed to keep an eye on, but actually he’s the one she most relates to. And it doesn’t seem like she relates to much these days. Outside of the classroom, Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe) is sloppier, less responsible, more potty-mouthed. And on this drama outing in particular, she seems to let her guard down.

Julia Hart is a super talented director who I might never have known if not for MV5BMjA5MTc2Njg4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzY1MzMwMDI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_touring around to various film festivals. She makes beautiful, sad, detailed films about strong women. Miss Stevens is such a character. As chaperone, she’s discovering that this whole “coming of age” thing isn’t just for teenagers – you do it first when you actually become the age of majority, and a second time when your adulthood really takes. For Miss Stevens, it is perhaps only truly gelling now, on this trip, as the only grown-up jumping on the hotel bed.

Life is hard. Miss Stevens is fragile. But the fact that she’s navigating these conflicting things, and the spongy, tricky thing that is friendship between students and teachers, means she is growing and learning and becoming the self she’s supposed to be. And it’s kind of amazing to see something so authentic on the screen. This movie is small but perfect in its smallness, uniquely positioned to bring out those tiny intimacies that string us together in life.

Lily Rabe is terrific in this, heart breaking and complex and frustrating and real. Timothee Chalamet proves that he’s got star-making stuff up his sleeve. Everyone and everything just comes together to make this movie mature and fascinating, balanced and natural, intimate but familiar. Check it out.