#TIFF23 Reviews: Dream Scenario, The Critic, A Difficult Year

I almost never do this, but today I walked out of a screening. Maybe if it had been earlier in the festival  I would’ve stuck it out, but after about 25 minutes I’d completely lost my patience with a rambling, non-sensical movie. I won’t say what it was but if you check a wired indie film site you’ll find a scorched earth review that, based on my brief time with the film, seems like it’s right on the money. Off to better fare:

Dream Scenario | Written and Directed by Kristoffer Borgli

Fantasy as allegory, done well, warms my cockles, and consider those suckers toasty.  In this A24 production we’ve got Nicolas Cage at peak schlub — practically a cousin to the twins in Adaptation — as Paul Matthews, an awkward and insecure tenured professor with a wholesome family life — Julianne Nicholson plays his wife, Lily Bird and Jessica Clement his daughters. Friends and colleagues keep telling him they’ve been dreaming about him, which becomes epidemic, turning this mild-mannered prof into a viral subconscious sensation. Paul starts to enjoy the attention, even engaging a publicist (Michael Cera winning this year with terrific supporting roles), but never anticipating the heavy cost of stardom.

A delicious take on the uncontrollable nature of social media celebrity and cancel culture, the film is hilarious, a bone dry delight. It’s also a terrific Toronto film, offering a collection of autumnal locations in the Six.

The Critic |  Directed by Anand Tucker | Written by Patrick Marber and Anthony Quinn 

A film to luxuriate in — Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie, Shopgirl) returns with a period melodrama of overlapping desire and tragedy set in London’s theatreland in the mid-1930s. Ian McKellan in fine form is Jimmy Erskine, the much-feared theatre critic of the title who after 40 years of rampant bullying feels more powerful than the right-wing rag he writes for. When the paper’s publisher dies, his son, David Brooke (Mark Strong in curls,) takes over and crosses swords with Erskine, prompting the critic to make a faustian deal with an actor, Nina Land (Gemma Arterton), promising fame for a seductive favour. This will bring darkness on her, her artist ex-lover (Ben Barnes), and the newly promoted newspaper magnate, with Lesley Manville and Romola Garai also on board for the ride.

The picture is a set-up all along — though it starts with a charming tale of sexy manipulation it swirls down the drain into a murky river of heartbreak, suicide, and betrayal, and you’ll want to go all the way down with it. Gorgeous to look at, shot with a conscious and impressive use of deep shadow and saturated colour, The Critic also offers yet another occasion for audiences to say with conviction, “Nobody but McKellan could’ve played this part.”

Here’s Gemma Arterton on the TIFF red carpet this week:

A Difficult Year | Written and Directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano 

A broad, mainstream French comedy, it features two hapless gents (Pio Marmaï and Jonathan Cohen), both struggling under a mountain of debt and desperate to dig themselves out, who get involved with a group of eco-activists for the free beer and snacks. One of their leaders (Noémie Merlant) insists they commit to the cause, which they appear to do while lining their pockets along the way and attending financial counselling lead by a gambling addict (Mathieu Amalric). Some of the humour is puerile and inane, but Marmaï and Cohen are able to use their personal chemistry to generate a few laughs and take shots at French consumer culture. The hippie ethos of the eco activists are skewered, but not so much that their cause seems ridiculous or the film irresponsible. More so the picture’s gender dynamics feel like they’re decades old and an entire romantic subplot should’ve been shelved, along with a wildly implausible conclusion.

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.