Toronto International Film Festival
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen
When the story of David and Nic Sheff unfolded over a decade ago, it shaped public understanding of drug addiction by shedding equal light on both addicts and their families. David’s memoir Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction was gripping, while Nic’s memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, was a harrowing first-person account. They brought nuance, humour, clarity and context to a bleak epidemic strongly tied to a victim-blaming narrative.
Beautiful Boy, the film adaptation of both stories, takes context out of the equation, instead focusing on style over substance. Many of the film’s sequences, particularly early on, are hindered by nonlinear visual storytelling, which serves to distract and confound. The scattershot soundtrack, which cobbles together everything from Mogwai to Perry Como, occasionally undercuts the film’s most poignant moments. In trying to reconcile the two memoirs, the film focuses on parallels between David (Steve Carell) and Nic (a phenomenal Timothée Chalamet) rather than trying to flesh out the characters independently.
Yet despite the lacking characterization, Chalamet portrays Nic with a haunting desperation, selling the character’s arrogant surface while also showcasing the agony beneath. Though the film centres on David before slowly shifting the focus to Nic, Chalamet shines from start to finish. Carell delivers a solid performance as David, though his best moments are all comedic, unable to hit the dramatic highs of his Oscar-nominated performance in Foxcatcher. Beautiful Boy touches on the heft of addiction, but not as contextually as David’s memoir or as harrowingly as Nic’s. Reconciling both memoirs with Van Groeningen’s stylistic impulses leads to an uneven effort. (Amazon Studios) MATT BOBKIN
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Pawel Pawlikowski’s first film after Ida won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Cold War is a visually stunning love story loosely based on his parents. It follows Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a composer and musical director, and the young, bold Zula (Joanna Kulig), who captivates him when she auditions for his Polish folk music act. Following the entirety of their relationship, the film jumps through years at a time, and across the Iron Curtain, creating a collection of snapshots of their intense, sometimes volatile relationship. With time spent in Poland, Berlin and France, Pawlikowski explores what it means to live and love in the specific political landscape of postwar Europe. Using impeccable imagery and evocative music that changes with the narrative, Cold War portrays truths much larger than the political, but which are shaped by it nonetheless. (Mongrel) SARAH MELTON
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
As a rule, movies about punk-adjacent culture can’t be done. And if anyone most certainly can’t, it’s literary indie faux-teur Alex Ross Perry. Her Smell is 134 minutes long, and approximately 120 of those minutes offer full-fledged embarrassment chills. The film stars Elisabeth Moss as “Becky Something,” frontwoman for Something She — a punky power trio whose rise in the riot grrrl movement resulted in international fame. Though Perry denied the connection in a post-screening Q&A, Moss is undeniably channelling Courtney Love. Because of movie punk magic, however, this version of Hole sounds a lot more like Live on Release mishmashed with Blink-182.
As Her Smell starts, we see Becky Something throwing one hell of a hissy fit backstage at a late-era Something She show, long after the band have stopped selling out stadiums, and instead pile up blow and chug hard liquor. The claustrophobic and hilariously overwrought shots see Moss deliver faux-theatre dialogue as she writhes around the soundstage and rakes everyone near and dear to her over the coals. Aside from the odd cut to handheld VHS camera flashbacks (all of which are, again, directly mimicking early Kurt and Courtney tapes), the film spends most of its time in the dim, dank backstage area, and one can’t help but fear they’re going to be stuck with Becky that whole time. There are motives and explanations that are never really explored — even Becky’s substance abuse issues are only assumed until she mentions sobriety in the film’s 100th minute. Similarly, we never understand why Becky’s manager (Eric Stoltz), bandmates (Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin) or frenemies (Amber Heard, playing a Lady Gaga type called Zelda) stand by her through her decade of bad behaviour and community theatre-calibre diatribes. Of course, things do eventually hit the fan when Becky’s unchecked ego (or is it mental illness? Or the drugs she was apparently doing at some point?) winds up pushing everyone away. From there, she works with a young, up-andcoming act (Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson and Dylan Gelula) and then eventually fucks that up too.
Moss delivers the sort of jarring and unbearable performance that critics love to describe as brave, but it gives the