#TIFF2023 reviews: Woman Of The Hour, Lee, Seagrass

Woman Of The Hour | Directed by Anna Kendrick | Written by Ian MacAllister McDonald

I’m appreciating the examples of actors stepping behind the camera at this edition of TIFF, like Kristin Scott Thomas and Patricia Arquette. I liked both of their films to varying degrees, but this one is next level, with a skin-crawling intensity. It tells the true story of Rodney Alcara (played with creepy confidence by Daniel Zovatto) who was a serial killer of women for years in California, even at one time being a bachelor on the Dating Game TV show. Directed by Kendrick, who also appears in the film as a Dating Game bachelorette, the film is a grim, tension-builder that utilizes non-linear storytelling to show the freedom this man had to terrorize women, and Kendrick absolutely makes the entertainment industry complicit in this impunity — it’s not hard to draw connections to today’s rampant, sexist reality TV biz. Well-shot and well-acted by a young cast, if the script is a little bumpy the skill of the filmmaker carries the day. With this and last year’s Toronto-shot Alice, Darling, Kendrick is taking sharp looks at men’s violence toward women, a grim, sadly rich storytelling vein.

Lee | Directed by Ellen Kuras | Written by Liz Hannah, Marion Hume, John Collee, and Lem Dobbs

When Christopher Nolan was promoting Oppenheimer this summer, to one interviewer he said the word biopic was kind of a slur, that usually people only talk about the cinematic subgenre in the derogatory. In this case he’s probably right — Lee has a terrific performance in its centre, with Kate Winslet providing another of her unforgettable, damaged women in the form of Lee Miller, renowned photographer and war correspondent — but the film falls out of the cliche tree hitting every branch on the way down.

Is she being interviewed about her life years later while in unconvincing old-lady make-up? Yes. Is the supporting cast starry but largely left floundering by the melodrama? Yes —  Andrea Riseborough is excellent as usual, but Alexander Skarsgaard struggles with an accent, Marion Cotillard and Noémie Merlant struggle with not enough to do, and Andy Samberg struggles with nuance. Things get more compelling later on as Miller uses her camera to capture the horrors of war — but then the script tries to clumsily connect the trauma she observes with abuse she suffered as a child: cue a blatant Oscar-bait scene or two.  Worth it for Winslet, not a lot else.

Seagrass | Written and Directed by Meredith Hama-Brown 

Seagrass has the tang of a Canlit adaptation, which speaks highly of its auteur’s ambitions. It tells a  humanistic tale of an interracial couple coming apart at the seams, their daughters’ challenges with other kids and each other, and a suggestion, in the margins, of the supernatural. Unfortunately, it’s also a huge bummer, a movie where everyone onscreen is miserable and the arc of their journey is to some understanding of why. The audience gets to sit through the emotional dirge.

Set at a summery retreat on the Pacific coast, the location cinematography sings — so at least there’s always something to look at. Judith (Ally Maki) and Steve (Luke Roberts) are a shallow, annoying couple looking for help for their relationship and identity issues, while the kids (Nyha Breitkreuz and Remy Marthaller) are a lot more interesting given they have to deal with both the cruelty of children and your garden variety casual racism.

The possibility that this is a ghost story threatens occasionally, but doesn’t amount to anything. Seagrass is a model of a lot of promising ideas that refuse to gel.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.