Sunday, September 10, 2006

press conference: stranger than fiction

Stranger than Fiction is likely to be this year's strong buzz Hollywood indie that breaks big from Toronto. Already previewed in the theatres and featuring A list names, it has that glow in the dark, instant hit quality that only a comedy can engender.

Call it I Heart Huckabees meets Being John Malkovich colliding with Adaptation. Accountant Howard Click, played by Will Ferrell, hears a voice is in his head one day, narrating his life. Not just any voice either, but the plummy tones of Emma Thompson as Karen Eiffel, a novelist with writer's block. As it turns out, the writer is narrating his life and determining his fate. Dustin Hoffman plays the literary professor who Harold runs to for help. The movie's incredibly tight script allows character growth that feels more truthful than usual for a conventional Hollywood comedy: dark but not succumbing to the black that too often leads to loss of character integrity. Light but not whipped cream. It even has a tattooed Maggie Gyllenhall serving up warm cookies and milk to a man who in turn will eventually bring her flours. Yes, you read that right. His love is a baker.

Film festival press conferences can be either deadly or delicious. With three funny people on the platform, we landed on the right side this time. Emma Thompson, perhaps needing to offer contrast to her recent film roles, was in high glamour. Stacked studded shoes, bronzed skin and blonde hair. And also still very Emma. Who else would respond to a press query about "how you all got on" with a sardonic quip about troilism. "There was lots of troilism". "What's that?", said Hoffman. "Threesome". Then to us, "I have to constantly educate them."

Ferrell was also on his game, shouting "Liar" before a question had been posed and asking a Japanese reporter how he managed to stay so trim. He talked about working with two great giants in the industry, and then turned to the men on either side of him, Zach Helm, the screenwriter, and Marc Forster, the director, and said "Zach and Marc are the best". Hoffman and Thompson howled. And so it went. For about an hour.

There was also some good insight. I asked Thompson about her writing process compared with her character's. She responded by saying that as a screenwriter, she knows she's going to meet her characters and that she enjoys that. She could never be a novelist in part because they never get to meet their characters. I didn't have the courage to say that most screenwriters don't get to meet their characters either! It was an interesting presumption: that her movies will always be made, so she will meet her characters. But her further comments were wonderfully illuminative to the differences in genre. The collaborative nature of film means that many people will ultimately create the character besides the writer. She enjoys that process of watching the character bloom and grow once out of her hands - and credited producer Lindsay Doran with being a great story editor.

Still, the hijinks were the common ground and Hoffman confessed he was having so much fun he was dreading hearing the host say "we've run out of time". When in fact, the host did say it, he wasn't the only one disappointed. In the crazy press scrum of photographers that happens at both ends of the hour, there was a clear euphoria that had been engendered. Feeding on it, Hoffman and Thompson sandwiched Ferrell and bussed him on the cheek. Flashes erupted like fireworks.

Much more to come: Babel, Magic Flute, Dong, La Tourneuse de Pages, Empz 4 Life, Paris Je T'Aime, Voyage en Armenie, Opera Jawa, For Your Consideration and the Wavelengths programme that included Roads of Kiarostami. All have been viewed and await notes here! But first I must run. Even as I type, sitting here in my car and camped on a nearby church server to get access to the internet, I can hear the crying cheers of the crowd surrounding Roy Thomson Hall as the giants of Bollywood arrive for this afternoon's Never Say Goodbye premiere. Off I go!

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