TIFF 2009 #3: Soakers, Schoolgirls and Stupid Cell Phones

The festival’s been going for a few days, but my attendance has been somewhat thin. I tried to go to the Whip It! derby event at Yonge/Dundas Square on Sunday evening, which would have been my sole TIFFing of the weekend, but it was such a madhouse when I arrived – 45 minutes before the scheduled start time and already insanely crowded – that I decided to skip it.

So, yesterday was only my second official TIFF screening, and it was… odd. One of those mixed-bag experiences where you kind of sit back and think, “Only at TIFF.”

It started when the ticketholders line up at the Bader was positioned alongside lawn sprinklers that kept rotating so that water was periodically showered on anyone unfortunate enough to be standing nearby. That is, until one brilliant (and damp and frustrated) woman walked across the street, picked up an orange traffic cone and then plonked it down right over the offending nozzle. So smart!

Then the Bader Bees (wasps, not a roller-derby team) decided that they really wanted to get to know me, which resulted in me darting in and out of line repeatedly as they tried to land on my forehead over and over again.

Then we went inside, with about eight minutes to spare before the scheduled start time, for the screening.

The film was Tanner Hall (4/8), an overly busy and jumbled girls-school story that kept veering between absurdist comedy and coming-of-age drama. Co-written, co-directed and co-produced by Tatiana von Furstenberg (daughter of designer Diane, who arrived at the theater with a bedazzled posse of Beverly Hills comrades) and Francesca Gregorini (best known as Portia de Rossi’s ex), the film is set at the titular institution, where “smart girl” Fern (Rooney Mara), “flirty girl” Kate (Brie Larson) and “budding lesbian” Lu (Amy Ferguson) find their lives turned upside down by the arrival of erratic new student Victoria (Georgia King) who, for all intents and purposes, is something of a mild sociopath intent on f**king with her peers. There’s a wildly distracting, and entirely pointless, subplot involving one of their teachers (a supremely miscast Chris Kattan) and his sex-starved wife (Amy Sedaris) that feels dropped in from a whole different movie, and the parallel stories of teenaged girls being pursued by grown men felt kind of icky instead of romantic or seductive.

The performances ran the gamut from solid to silly, and the storylines felt clichéd as opposed to grounded in reality. Little things started to bother me, like the fact that no one in the entire school seems to own a bag or knapsack – all the students walk around carrying big stacks of notebooks and textbooks. Or the random “girls at leisure” tableaus, which were dropped into the film like something out of a fantasy: the girls lounging languidly in the school’s bowling alley (i.e., sprawled across the lanes, doing each other’s nails), the girls in a laughably lame dance-class sequence (pictured), the girls playing ping-pong in an empty hall that’s simultaneously ornate and deserted. Maybe the film is laced with symbolism and metaphor and hidden meaning, I don’t know. But, if it is, I didn’t get it. I love a good girls-school film, but I was disappointed in this one.

Both directors and almost the entire cast – Kattan, Sedaris, Mara, Ferguson, King and Tom Everett Scott – showed up, and I’m pretty sure I saw director Jamie Babbit outside before the film. The size of the entourage and what appeared to be a lack of seating for them all inside the venue meant the film started late. And, speaking of late, why is it that the festival’s very clearly outlined policy about latecomers is never, ever enforced?

Per the official TIFF general policies, there will be no admittance to a film 10 minutes after it starts… yet, last night, not only were random people coming in 15, 20, 25 minutes into the movie, one woman strolled in about a half-hour before the movie ended and started poking around for a seat. Why even attend at that point?

Then there was the gal who wandered into my row at about the 20-minute mark, sat down two seats over from me, and promptly took out her Blackberry and started texting! At first I thought she was just turning the device off, but when she started clicking away on it, and after the person on the other side of her actually got up and moved, I leaned over and said, “Excuse me, would you mind turning that off?!”

Which, thankfully, she did.

Honestly. What is WRONG with people and their manners? The fest has now taken to specifically asking people NOT to text during films, going so far as to explain (in the pre-film introductions) why this is rude. Do people really STILL need that explained?! Do people still believe that, when they take out their iPhone or Blackberry in the pitch darkness of a packed theater, they’re in some kind of shielded bubble through which no one else can see? Evidently, yes. And the SECOND the film ended, several dozen tiny, blue screens lit up in the audience as people scrambled to check messages immediately. So annoying.

Anyway, not much else to report for the day, save for the fact that I saw Chris Rock.

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