2001 TIFF Festival Update #2: "Lights! Camera! Action!"

Commentary by James Berardinelli
September 7, 2001

At film festivals, Opening Night is as much about glitz and glamour as it is about movies. It's a gossip columnist's wet dream - who's wearing what, who's talking to whom, which star is showing up on the arm of which other star. And, for Toronto, the city to host the biggest film festival in the world, this is as close as things get to the Academy Awards. Over the next two weeks, the likes of Denzel Washington, Anthony Hopkins, Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey, Glenn Close, Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Moreau, Ben Kingsley, John Cusack, Andy Garcia, James Coburn, and Mick Jagger will all be fodder for the local paparazzi, but nothing is quite like Opening Night.

This is when the festival congratulates itself (with special kudos to hard-working Piers Handling, the Festival President, and Michele Maheux, the Managing Director) and its sponsors, and when Toronto's movers and shakers come out to be seen and heard. Most of them actually stay to watch the movie, feeling it would be gauche just to put in an appearance then disappear before darkness falls inside the Roy Thompson Pavallion. Yet, for all the pomp and circumstance, at the center of last night's proceedings was writer/director Bruce Sweeney's third motion picture, Last Wedding. Its a prestigious thing to be selected as the Opening Night feature (the distinction always goes to the product of a Canadian director), and 2001 is Sweeney's first time to receive the honor.

The festival is sensitive that many movie-lovers cannot pay the price necessary to attend the official premiere (or, in some cases, they may not be interested in sitting through the long-winded speeches that typically precede the screening). For such movie-goers, there are alternatives. Last Wedding has two additional screenings. One, at the huge Uptown One theater, actually occurs about an hour before the official opening. Another takes place the following afternoon. So, just about anyone in Toronto who wants to see Last Wedding has the opportunity.

Aside from being able to say they were at Opening Night, however, there's not much reason for the festival faithful to have seen Last Wedding, a trite, uneven dramatic comedy that takes the view that all relationships are doomed to end in misery. Sweeney appears to be trying to emulate Woody Allen, but it only takes a few moments to realize that, while he may be mining Allen's territory, he's missing most of the New York filmmaker's creative equipment. The humor in Last Wedding is too often forced and, as a result, unfunny. And, on those occasions when we are moved to laughter, it's frequently because we're laughing at the characters. This might be fine for pure farce, but it's deadly in a film with dramatic aspirations, because it's hard to sympathize with individuals who are viewed as buffoons.

In terms of insight, Sweeney doesn't offer any - or at least any that is innovative or interesting. His material is strictly on the level of what one might expect from a TV sitcom. The characters are cardboard cut-outs, and there's no sense that Sweeney intended for them to take on a life of their own. Real, three-dimensional characters transcend the limitations of the screenplay that introduces them - we believe they live on after the movie concludes. In Last Wedding, we wish they would cease to exist before the end credits roll.

The movie chronicles the parallel collapse of three male/female relationships. Noah (Benjamin Ratner) and Zipporah (Frida Betrani) are getting married after a whirlwind relationship. Despite repeated advice that they should push back the date of the nuptials, they move ahead with the wedding, and, before the honeymoon bed is cold, there are problems in the areas of communication and conflict resolution. Meanwhile, Noah's best friend, Peter (Tom Scholte), is having difficulties of his own. He is becoming bored with Leslie (Nancy Sivak), his live-in lover of four years, and is finding the temptation of sleeping with another, much younger woman almost impossible to resist. Finally, Noah's other close friend, Shane (Vincent Gale), is also having romantic troubles. Shane, who is in a committed relationship with Sarah (Molly Parker), feels threatened when Sarah's architectural career suddenly takes off while he continues to struggle.

If one were to listen to Sweeney, there would be no point in falling in love. And, while there might be some value to this cynic's viewpoint, a better screenplay is definitely needed to bring it across. Sweeney's narrative is a tired compilation of familiar cliches (right down to the climactic dinner party where all three relationships finally implode - how often have we seen this?). The acting is generally adequate, but there are no standouts. Part of the reason for this is that Last Wedding isn't really an actor's movie. Unfortunately, it's not much of an audience's movie, either.

Perhaps the silver lining to all this is that Last Wedding does not have an international distributor, and, judging by the lukewarm reception, if it gets a deal, it won't be a large one. So, for the average multiplex visitor, it's extremely unlikely that the chance to see this Opening Night feature will arise. And that means one less study in mediocrity to sit through.

© 2001 James Berardinelli

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