We saw one of the best films of 2019 at TIFF

The winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes screened in Toronto last night, PLUS Shia Labeouf plays his own dad and three more fascinating films from the festival’s first day.

Honey Boy

There are times where I hear myself talk or catch myself sitting in a particular position and am forced to admit that I am undeniably turning into my father. In my case, that’s fine, because my dad has always been a fine dad and whatever’s wrong with me is not particularly his fault — but I don’t think that that’s something Shia Labeouf is able to say if Honey Boy is any indication. Labeouf plays his own father, an ex-con former rodeo clown who has been recycled as his child-actor son’s legal guardian. Otis (Noah Jupe) and his father James live in a rundown motel and travel around on James’s motorcycle, their entire cashflow seemingly coming from Otis’s per diems from his various acting jobs. James is a sort of contradiction out of time, a hippie veteran with hardline ideas of what could be considered masculine, yet very open ideas of what a society is and what the understood rules are. He’s abusive to his son as his father was to him before, eventually sending him spiralling into addiction and self-destruction as he hits his 20s (in which he is played by Lucas Hedges).

Knowing what we know about Labeouf’s personal life, Honey Boy could very much have felt like a solipsistic ego trip. As it stands, it’s more of a fascinatingly self-serving bit of therapy — a spilling of the guts for all to see by a guy who has never really been shy about what he has on the inside. To some extent, Labeouf (who wrote, but didn’t direct) blurs the lines between himself and his father — the film is, above all else, about cycles of abuse and the ways you can’t escape being a certain way if the person who molded you did so out of spite from their own life. It’s hard not to be moved by all of it, even if the film is prone to flights of arthouse fancy that yield diminishing returns (like a subplot showcasing the practically non-verbal relationship between Otis and a troubled neighbour played by FKA Twigs, which has a plastic aesthetic quality that’s not surprising considering director Alma Har’el’s background in music videos), but even when Labeouf and Har’el fall into the expected and the masturbatory, it’s rarely less than compelling.

Honey Boy does not yet have a Montreal release date.


Ever since Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite won the Palme d’Or, almost everyone has tried to remain as vague as possible about it. “You have to see it for yourself” is not an uncommon thought these days, but it’s rare that this is actually upheld by the click-hungry online machine. Parasite was not spoiled for me and thus I would be remiss to tell you almost anything about it, considering how much of its pleasures lie in precisely how unpredictable its twists and turns are.

Suffice to say that it’s a caustic black comedy, a sort of perversion of the Upstairs/Downstairs model that uses the employment of a young man from a poor family as a tutor for the teenage daughter of a bourgeois family as a springboard for a film that’s extremely skilled at never settling into a groove. Violent, funny, brutal, sad and strange, Parasite somehow manages to eviscerate its targets with scalpel-like precision without ever explicitly telling us how to feel (well, except for the character who keeps describing objects and events as “so metaphorical”) and without drawing characters as caricatures. It’s the rare example of a movie that fully earns its excesses without telegraphing them ahead of time — a practically flawless effort from one of the most interesting directors currently working.

Parasite is set for release on Oct. 25.

The Whistlers

There are sort of two central jokes to Corneliu Porumboiu’s wry, deadpan The Whistlers: the first is how lackadaisical it all feels, how this ostensible thriller plot is delivered by characters who seem to sleepwalk through every moment of their lives; the second is how insanely complicated the plot gets. It’s an impossibly tangled web that Porumboiu seems so unconcerned about untangling that its very impenetrable nature becomes a joke in itself. Porumboiu has made a name for himself with exactly these kinds of bone-dry Romanian New Wave comedies and, while his voice remains intact, The Whistlers suffers somewhat from its adherence to an impenetrable narrative.

Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) is a narcotics cop who’s playing both sides — for how long exactly isn’t clear, since his entire apartment is bugged and rigged with cameras — and tasked by a femme fatale named Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) to help her bust her drug dealer boyfriend Zsolt (Sabin Tambrera) out of jail. For reasons that are purposely too dense to relay here, this involves going to the Canary Islands to learn a whistling language that they can then use to plan that getaway. While Porumboiu’s deconstructed approach to genre tropes is frequently charming and quirky, it’s difficult not to find the ever-winding narrative exhausting. Even if you accept it as a feature rather than a bug, being jostled to and fro constantly starts to wear thin long before the film is over.

The Whistlers is set to open in 2020.

White Lie

Social media has made it easier than ever before to lie about who you are and what you do, and yet it’s also easier than ever before to figure out if someone is lying. White Lie presents a fascinating central character in Katie (Kacey Rohl), a university student who has everyone convinced that she’s dying of melanoma. She runs social-media funding campaigns constantly, shaves her head and rouses sympathy everywhere she goes, but as she starts coming up against roadblocks (the absence of medical records, for one), Katie decides to double-down on her “disease” and the manipulation necessary to keep it going.

White Lie offers a fascinating insight into the psychology of lying. Katie has plenty going for her outside of the disease, and it seems that whatever benefits the lie give her (money, sympathy) are far outweighed by the constant stress and pressure of keeping tabs on every aspect of a situation that’s never truly under control. Directors Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas have the film unfold like a queasy thriller, punctuated with anxious stabs of electronic music that constantly shift the amount of sympathy the viewer has for Katie. There are times where she fully melts down over someone not believing one of her lies — and we somehow feel for her even though we know it’s all a crock of shit. Under White Lie’s simple premise and (admittedly) extremely Canadian vibe lies a complex and effective film.

White Lie does not yet have a Montreal release date.

The Climb

You’d think that after 40-some years of buddy cop movies and other variations on the bromance, there would be nothing new to say about male friendships. Though Michael Angelo Covino’s caustic bro-vorce comedy The Climb isn’t exactly swimming in uncharted waters, it’s less about the fun part of male friendships and more about how friendship can become a kind of unbreakable curse. 

Mike (Covino) is a former high school athlete who peaked in high school; Kyle (Kyle Marvin) is his schlubbier, easily-pushed-over best friend since time immemorial. Their relationship has always existed on an uneven plane, but it turns significantly more uneven when Mike reveals to Kyle while on a bike trip in the French countryside (Mike’s idea) that he’s been sleeping with his fiancée (Judith Godrèche).

That’s where the viewer steps into their relationship. The Climb makes it clear that Mike has always needed Kyle’s approval on some primal level and essentially all of his selfish, self-destructive behaviour has been intended as a means of control. The Climb taps into a very particular notion of adult friendship wherein, with few to no new friends entering the picture, the friends we have feel more necessary — and more pliable to whatever our peccadilloes may be — than ever before. Shot mainly in long takes and separated into seven chapters (the first of which was first shot as a sort of proof-of-concept short), The Climb owes a significant debt to the films of the Duplass Brothers — but it takes its observations far beyond the comfort zone of your average indie bro-down, and it offers none of the easy resolutions you’d expected. If the film could greatly benefit from fleshing out its female characters (essentially limited to Kyle’s bossy fiancée, played by Gayle Rankin, who spends a lot of the movie serving as a shrewish roadblock), it’s mainly a two-hander, admirably defended by its two leads — who are, of course, real-life best friends.

The Climb is set for release in 2020.