By Jim Slotek, Liam Lacey and Kim Hughes
Moving beyond its status as “Canada’s leading LGBTQ film festival,” Inside Out launches Thursday (May 23) with a lineup and momentum a film fest in any genre would covet.
From its straight-out-of-Cannes debut of Rocketman — the Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton — to its just-announced partnership with Netflix to promote next-generation Canadian filmmakers and talent, to its pre-release Netflix headliner, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City with Laura Linney, Paul Gross and Ellen Page, Inside Out is “in” for the next week.
The 29th edition of the festival, which runs through to June 2 (with Rocketman as its opener and Mindy Kaling’s Late Night as its closer), features 40 films from 32 countries. That includes five world premieres, six international premieres, and 14 Canadian premieres.
Original-Cin got an early look at some of the features at this year’s Inside Out. Here are a handful of our reviews. Be sure to check back throughout the festival as we add more.
Mother-daughter conflicts don’t get much bitterer than the one in writer/director Lisa Zi Xiang’s auspicious debut feature. The film — which premiered at the Berlinale film festival this year — follows a pregnant writer, Xiaoyu, who arrives home in Beijing from New York with her foreign husband. The couple immediately find themselves immersed in an old family conflict. The mother, Juimei, has been inconsolable and insufferable since Xiaoyu’s adolescence, when she first discovered her husband’s homosexuality. Instead of getting a divorce, the stoical father endures the toxic, loveless marriage and spends a lot of time walking the dog. (The film’s title refers to a 1926 Joan Miró painting, symbolizing unattainable longing). Meanwhile, Juimei pours both her time and money into a bogus Buddhist-themed cult in atonement for her past-life sins. As visually rewarding as it is emotionally stormy, Dog is framed in long patient takes, and infused with unexpected moments of fantasy and humour. Screening Mon, May 27, 9:30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2. — LL
The popular current representation of drag performance is the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which involves glam outfits, put-downs, an all-knowing judge, and a win-or-lose format. That balance is very different to the playful, inclusive world of the Brooklyn drag-burlesque collective Switch n’ Play, founded in 2006 and the subject of this funny, generous doc. Zigzagging across gender lines, as well as distinctions between burlesque, drag, cosplay and the circus, the performances are raunchy and comically disarming: Imagine a multi-breasted night goddess or an old-fashioned milkman… who really knows how to swing his bottles. Screening Sat, Jun 1, 2:30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. — LL
Targeted at that madcap/poignant sweet spot of acclaimed series like Arrested Development or Transparent, the New York-set Before You Know It was developed through the Sundance lab, and landed some marquee talent (Alec Baldwin, Mandy Patinkin, Judith Light) at the script stage. The story focuses on thirtyish co-dependent adult sisters: control freak and non-practicing lesbian, Rachel, played by director Hannah Pearl Utt, and her kooky, boozy sister, Jackie, played by co-writer Jen Tullock. The siblings' differences are not communicated subtly. Rachel dresses like she's about to enter a religious order; Jackie, like she's trying to land the role of Frenchie in Grease. They share an apartment above a tiny theatre in the Village with their cranky, anti-conformist playwright dad (Patinkin) and Jackie's precociously insightful (of course), 12-year-old daughter. Following dad's sudden death, the sisters discover that their mom (Light), long presumed dead, is a famous diva soap opera star. Fairytale plot aside, Before You Know It is decently crafted but exasperating to watch, with acting frequently pitched a couple of semi-tones too sharp, and too many scenes that skew cartoonish or sappy. Screening Fri, May 24, 9:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2. — LL
A people’s choice winner at the SXSW festival, this story from first-time director Flavio Alves about a transitioning Mexican-American woman named Tina (Carlie Guevara) checks a lot of boxes while retaining its heart. An inherently upbeat person, who deals matter-of-factly with events like passengers vomiting in her cab, Tina has a support group of friends, a friendly bartender (Michael Madsen) a grandmother, and a contentious therapist (Ed Asner) whose job it is to decide if she is a bona fide case of gender dysphoria. She also has a no-good boyfriend and local punks who taunt her on the street (including one, played by Anthony Abdo, who is shamed by his attraction to her, a poisonous emotional soup that doesn’t bode well). If you can see some twists coming, the naturalistic acting and flow keep the movie steady in its story and message. Screening Sun, May 26, 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2. — JS
Awkwardness, both intentional and not, is the overriding tone of this mild Seattle-set dramedy from Wendy Jo Carlton (the Amazon-series Jessie and Jessie Are Not Together). The film follows anxious Jenna (Kari Alison Hodge) whose bossy girlfriend, Kate (Rachel Paulson) has talked her into a three-way at the house of a stranger Mia (Julia Eringer), who has an English accent and purring composure. As expected, tensions and revelations spill out as the wine flows. While the performances are appealing enough, the script is unwieldly, including an unlikely subplot about Mia’s mysterious secret life and a sitcom-like middle-aged male neighbor (Carter Rodriguez) who pops up intermittently to dole out exposition. Finally, while one can sympathize with the filmmaker’s desire to dramatize sexual power dynamics without voyeurism, it defies credibility that these adventurous women get it on while decorously covered by underwear and up-to-the-shoulders bedclothes. Screening Sat, May 25, 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. — LL
John Butler’s offbeat drama is about a distressed gay L.A. weatherman named Sean (Matt Bomer) who breaks down while on-air and is given a leave of absence to collect himself. The fact that he’s suffering the loss of a Latino lover gets complicated when he decides to immerse himself in a home improvement project and hires a middle-aged Mexican labourer named Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño). Despite Ernesto not understanding a word of English, Sean uses him as a sounding board, yakking incessantly on hikes and rowboat trips, while the dryly funny Ernesto relates his “adventures” to his wife by phone. At first annoyingly manic, the movie turns deeply melancholy as Sean faces reality about Ernesto’s life and his own. A slight story, but one that resonates with class and immigrant issues. Screening Wed, May 29, 7:00 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. — JS
Toronto filmmaker Michelle Mohabeer opens her documentary with onscreen text employing a thicket of culture theory jargon, including such phrases “fluid diasporic bodies” and “eclectic queer ethnography.” Then it settles down to a relatable, illuminating look of what the contentious phrase “identity politics” means in the real world. The film presents a series of first-person stories from queer Torontonians of Indo-Caribbean descent. Although they represent a spectrum of age, race, body types and sexualities — and they all speak with a great deal of subtlety about the ways that race and sexuality interact in their lives, and how living in a society where your appearance can make you a target of violence — vigilant self-consciousness is not a choice. Each of these scenes includes backgrounds of water, both reflecting their Caribbean roots and “fluid” identities while digitally manipulated motifs of masks represent the notions of creative artifice and social masks. Screening Thur, May 30, 4:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2. — LL
When model and aspiring actor Mark Patton landed a starring role opposite Robert Englund in 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, it seemed like the gig of a lifetime. But the film’s peculiarly campy skew quickly made it a cult favourite among gay youth and, alleges Patton, sidelined his career. The doc’s exploration of the relationship between horror films and gay culture is terrifically interesting but as an exercise in comeuppance, it falls short. A throw-down between Patton and Freddy's Revenge screenwriter David Chaskin is acutely anticlimactic, and scenes of Patton being feted at fan expos enhance rather than undermine the original film’s impact. A mid-point foray in the AIDS crisis of the 80s feels like a sidebar that belongs in another film. Screening Sat, May 25, 5:00 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. — KH
For more Inside Out film information and ticket details, click here.