By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: Loveless, Wonderstruck

The 70th annual Cannes horserace started Wednesday with native opener Ishmael’s Ghosts, which I haven’t seen, but word along the rue is… decidedly rueful. Noticeable changes from previous years include: Tighter security (fair enough) and a larger emphasis on tradition (Remember the last 69 festivals, guys? The Palais is festooned with homages to them! Also, a Netflix Palme is simply out of the question).

Now picture this: A jogger, wearing a Russian tracksuit, running in place on a treadmill on an outdoor patio. It’s frigid outside. As one of the final images of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, the first entry in the 2017 Palme d’Or competition, there’s nothing more to say. The director’s commentary on where his country stands is as subtle as the rest of his movie, which is to say: Not. But his story about a missing boy—and the estranged, stone-faced parents who both regret having a child at all—features Zvyagintsev’s laudable trademarks: Exquisite photography, measured performances, and ambitious thematic flourishes. We saw all of these, but most especially the latter, in Leviathan, with the destructive smashing of the house—a Biblical ending, to be sure. But where Leviathan felt big and moving, Loveless is more concerned with being profound than compelling, if this character study in Moscovian melancholy is compelling at all. I mean, sure: Its lack of heart is in the title. Beyond that surface reading, however, is a larger issue: This is bleak, pessimistic cinema that’s technically stunning but colder than Siberia.

But I’d take negativity over brimming positivity most any day, especially in the face of Todd Haynes’ young-adult drama Wonderstruck, the second film in competition.

Wonderstruck is two stories that become one: The first follows a kid who goes walkabout from his Gunflint, Minnesota home to New York City in the 1970s, attempting to track down a dad he knows nothing about. After a freak accident leaves him deaf, he is left to communicate via notepad to New Yorkers who help him out. Parallel to this Big Apple adventure is a young deaf girl’s experience growing up in 1920s version of that metropolis, confused and alone in the neglectful shadow of her silent-cinema-famous mother.

Following Carol—and to an extent, Superstar—Haynes’ latest movie is a flawed exercise in projecting the director’s indulgences onto a text that’s cute at best, sappy and dull at worst. If you reveled in Carol’s lovely period production design and adored The Karen Carpenter Story’s told-by-hand process, maybe you’ll find Wonderstruck a striking convergence of Haynes’ earlier works. (For the record, Carol is incredible.) But most pertinent is Wonderstruck’s saccharine air: If it weren’t for luxurious musical cues (featuring an original score that is a bit too same-y to Carol’s now-iconic music), a sound that’s assuredly Haynes’, Wonderstruck would be the spiritual sequel to Hugo, another exposition-heavy, all-ages-welcome love letter to being in awe of something grander than oneself. (Not surprising, then, when audiences learn the book it’s based on is by also by Brian Selznick.) Finally, given its central contrivance (the kid is deafened by a literal bolt of lightning), there’s something also to be said about how odd it is, directorially speaking, to derive most of the film’s emotional thrusts through long plays of gorgeous music.

Then again, I’m from Toronto. What do I know?

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook