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#TIFF17 Reviews: Lady Bird, I Kill Giants, The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales and The Breadwinner

September 10, 2017

By John Corrado

The Toronto International Film Festival is on until September 17th, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

Lady Bird – ★★★★ (out of 4) Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenager living in the suburbs of Sacramento, California who dreams of going somewhere more cultured.  She insists on being called Lady Bird, attends a Catholic school with mostly rich kids, and is ashamed of her modest house on “the wrong side of the tracks,” putting a rift between her and her mother (Laurie Metcalf), whom she is struggling to get along with. While her supportive father puts on a brave face, he is also struggling to come to terms with losing his job, making things even tighter for the family, as Lady Bird tries to navigate all the usual experiences of being a teenager.

The solo directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, who also wrote the impeccable script, Lady Bird is a lovely and deeply poignant film that finds the perfect balance between being funny, moving, bittersweet and a little edgy.  Saoirse Ronan carries the film with a spectacular performance, fully embodying this unique character in a way that lets us both relate to and care for her, even when she does unlikeable things out of teenaged angst.  Greta Gerwig’s writing sparkles with sharp dialogue, and provides many wonderfully observed scenarios for her heroine to navigate, but it also offers an intuitive exploration of its characters.  The film beautifully shows what’s happening on the peripheries of Lady Bird’s life and in America at the time, with her parents struggling to make ends meet in a changing economy, and news of the Iraq War flickering by on TV.  And in this way, Lady Bird becomes as much a snapshot of America in the early-2000s, a world still recovering from 9/11, as it is a portrait of a teenager becoming an adult, showing both its character and her country in a state of flux.  It’s not dissimilar to Boyhood in this way.  This is an instant classic in the coming of age genre, offering a uniquely enjoyable and emotional ode to leaving high school and your childhood behind.  I’m in love with this movie.

I Kill Giants – ★★★ (out of 4) Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) is a teenaged outsider, who escapes from relentless bullying at school and problems at home by immersing herself in an elaborate fantasy world, where she sets traps for giants and sees herself as the protector of her small town from monstrous forces.  This makes life even harder for her older sister Karen (Imogen Poots), who acts as her caregiver, while their mother is deathly ill.  Barbara behaves oddly, often wears a pair of bunny ears, and doesn’t make friends easily, save for a new girl (Sydney Wade) who starts reaching out to her.  All of these things quickly gain her the attention of the school shrink (Zoe Saldana), separating her even more from the other girls.  But the question becomes whether Barbara’s delusions are helping her better navigate the real world, or putting her even further out of touch from it, or perhaps the giants in her mind are real?

The feature directorial debut of Anders Walters, adapting the popular graphic novel of the same name, I Kill Giants is a fine fable for older kids that uses the fantasical elements of its story to deal with some pretty heavy themes of bullying, confronting a parent’s death and how the grieving process affects a child who is already neurologically different.  The film isn’t as strong as last year’s standout A Monster Calls or the underrated 2007 film adaptation of Bridge to Terebithia, to which it shares many thematic and stylistic similarities, and the dialogue is sometimes a little too on the nose, clearly being crafted for younger audiences.  But I Kill Giants is still a fairly engaging and emotional live action fairy tale, that features solid special effects for something done on a limited budget, and is carried by a fine performance from its young star Madison Wolfe.

The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales – ★★★½ (out of 4) Structured as a stage play being performed by a gang of farm animals, with us viewers serving as their audience, The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales offers a trio of charming and delightful animated tales.  First up is Baby Delivery, which finds Rabbit, Duck and Pig tasked with helping a stork deliver a baby.  Next is The Big Bad Fox, the adorable tale of the hungry Fox, who steals some chicken eggs to eat, but when they end up hatching, they end up mistaking him for their mother.  Last but not least is Saving Christmas, in which Rabbit and Duck think they accidentally killed Santa Claus, so decide to try and take his place and deliver presents.

Directed by the team of Patrcik Imbert and Benjamin Renner, who also brought us the wonderful Ernest & Celestine a few years back, The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales is a French animated film that is a real treat to watch from start to finish.  With each of these stories feeling like the perfect length, the film embraces its off the wall cartoon sensibility, and unfolds with an often madcap sensibility that delivers plenty of warm laughs.  The film also revels in some delightfully dark humour that feels distinctly European, with the characters often trying to eat each other, because they are animals after all.  The comically stylized characters are adorably drawn and the watercolour animation is frequently lovely to look at, all adding up to a short and sweet film that is absolutely delightful to watch.

The Breadwinner – ★★★½ (out of 4) Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is an 11-year-old living under the fierce rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, spending her days selling things at the market with her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah).  Nurullah is a former teacher who has taught his daughter how to write and read and is determined to let her have a normal childhood, in a country where girls aren’t allowed to succeed, instead of being married off to an adult man like so many other girls her age.  But when her father is arrested by the Taliban, Parvana cuts her hair and starts dressing in her late brother’s clothing, passing herself off as a boy so that she can leave the house without a male chaperone, and make money to provide for her mother (Laara Sadiq) and siblings, in hopes that she can reunite with her father.

Based on the children’s novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis, which has been brought to the screen by director Nora Twomey with the help of executive producer Angelina Jolie, The Breadwinner is a timely and moving animated tale for both kids and adults.  Crafted by a team of hundreds of artists, the film comes alive through gorgeous 2D animation, utilizing a mix of both digital and hand drawn elements to visually impressive ends.  The film intertwines its main narrative with a mythical story being told by Parvana, and these sequences are distinguished by their paper cut-out animation style, and are just as visually sumptuous to watch.  The film masterfully uses its wonderfully stylized animation to tell a deceptively simple and powerful female empowerment story, that is richly layered in how it explores deeper social issues, but does so in a way that is accessible for young audiences to understand.

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