Tag Archives: Sam Taylor-Johnson

TIFF18: A Million Little Pieces

A Million Little Pieces is a technically competent (and occasionally impressive) film that lacks perspective and personality. In life generally and this festival particularly, we have been inundated with films about addictions and recovery. If you’re going to pile on, I expect you have a hot take, a fresh point of view. It’s not unreasonable to expect that A Million Little Pieces might have had one; several years ago (2003, in fact), James Frey released his memoir (of the same name) and it was a monster best-seller. But when questions of authenticity surfaced, Frey’s shooting star burned out quickly, thanks in large part to Oprah’s dragon-fire condemnation.

The film was relegated to back burner, then cold storage, then deep freeze as the controversy was allowed to cool. But now that people have all but forgotten his name, Sam Taylor-Johnson brings his story to the big screen but curiously leaves the scandal unthawed, with only a Mark Twain quote to excuse away his dishonesty.

AMillionLittlePieces_0HEROWhat’s left is a story without a single breath of uniqueness. Drugs are bad, behaviour off the rails, shipped to rehab against his will, detox makes you sick, “I don’t need to be here,” resistance, rule-breaking, temptation, uncovering trauma, cautious optimism. Insert new names and this could literally describe at least a dozen movies about addictions, and those are just the ones I can name and I can’t name shit. Although Sam Taylor-Johnson makes things pretty (save her own husband, with cracked teeth and a broken nose), this feels like a very familiar, very formulaic iteration.

Taylor-Johnson’s husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, co-writes the script with her (which seems not to be a strength) and stars as Frey. She has enormous faith in his abilities as an actor, and directs him well. He’s committed and intense, and would have been great in a great role, except they failed to write one, and this “Frey” character is bland and superficial. We hardly get to know him, and the few flashbacks are not informative or expository, they’re hardly more than images. That said, his costars, including Billy Bob Thornton, Giovanni Ribisi, Juliette Lewis, Charlie Hunnam, and Odessa Young, get even shorter shrift. Back stories? Ha. These people barely get front stories. They fill the obligatory sharing-circle chairs and that’s about it.

I think there might have been a little life to this story had they not shied away from the truth of it. But as is, it’s a million little pieces of ordinary that add up to 113 minutes of boring, minus the 40 seconds or so when Aaron rocks out with his cock out. With so many options at the cinema, this just doesn’t cut it. An easy miss.

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Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy is about John Lennon’s early years – adolescence toward young manhood, which as we know is not a normal coming of age tale since the nowhere boy was well on his way to becoming the most famous man in the world.

The film shows the influence of two women on John’s life: his mean Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who raised him, and his absent mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who re-enters his life at a crucial bit, extracting pain but also possibly inspiring artistry.

MV5BOTI2MDM0Mzg5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDI0OTQ0Mw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1505,1000_AL_Lennon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) knew Mimi wasn’t his mother, but did not learn his mother’s identity until his uncle died and she showed up to the funeral. He was shocked to learn that all this time, she’s lived in the neighbourhood, must have been watching as he grew up. Julia is the younger, prettier, more outgoing, easier to love sister of Mimi’s. John and Julia’s relationship feels a little like a romance as they get to know each other in a little bubble.

But remember, during this time he’s also meeting George, and Paul. The world Beatles is never uttered, though, because this isn’t about the birth of the band. It’s about one ordinary teenager’s life, and the family secrets and tragedies that ushered him into adulthood.

It constricts the heart a little to know that the man who sang All You Need Is Love didn’t always get it. And if he had, we might not have him, or his beautiful lyrics, or his search for truth and meaning.

Sam Taylor-Johnson directed this film, with input from Paul McCartney and Lennon’s half sister, Julia Baird. It is her feature length debut. Her style is unpretentious, and she knows where her focus should be: on John. On the many Johns. The lesser-known Johns. It’s satisfying, as a biopic, because of its narrow scope. We all know who John became; this film tells us how he became. It’s fresh, and that’s very hard to do when we’re talking about one of the most recognizable human beings on the planet. It leaves behind the expected trappings and delivers only gleeful hints of what might be on the horizon. It’s thrilling to watch because of where it does not go.

Casting was obviously going to be a huge part of the film’s success or failure. Taylor-Johnson admits she was most nervous about finding the right Paul, as he’s still alive to see it. Instead of look-alikes, she went with a sweet-faced actor known to us as the drummer kid from Love Actually, Thomas Brodie-Sangster. But John, of course, makes the movie thrum, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson was its beating heart. With no overt mimicry, he embodies John’s spirit. It’s beautiful to watch.