Now, what I’m about to say is tantamount to heresy in some circles, but Will Ferrell, as funny as he is, cannot carry a film.
There. I said it. If you loved Anchorman and are one of the legion who can’t help but recite every blasted line of it ad nauseum, I’m sorry. I’m that guy at the party who returns your “I’m locked in a glass house of emotion” with a blank look. (To be fair, I guess that bit was kinda funny, and so was the massive Gangs of New York-style fight and the jazz flute… but that’s not the point.)
Ferrell was almost singularly responsible for my continuing to watch Saturday Night Live through the late ’90s and, within the confines of the Frat Pack, he is a scene-stealing juggernaut. I love it when he streaks. I love it when he does James Lipton. And I love it when he hammers that cowbell like there’s no tomorrow. But Ferrell’s particular brand of humour is one that I find ultimately too painful to sit through for more than fifteen minutes at a time. I just can’t handle him playing a squawking baby for two hours.
With Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Ferrell and Anchorman-director Adam McKay are back to kick the same old can: the simultaneous celebration and explosion of the over-inflated pomposity of American manhood. In Anchorman, it was the insular male news room. This time around it’s the great locus of bloated Southern American self-love: the NASCAR circuit. The basic story arc is the same. Begin by seeing boorish male protagonist in a cushioned bubble of narcissistic bliss, then watch him fall to the depths of despair, only to learn along the way (thanks to woman who somehow sees something of value in him) that tacky bravado is essentially empty.
Here’s how it works in Talladega Nights: Ricky Bobby is pretty much awesome. He’s number one. He’s got a smoking wife (the vapid Leslie Bibb), two rocking kids (Walker and Texas Ranger) and a good ole boy buddy who can never beat him (John C. Reilly’s Cal Naughton Jr.). Jesus loves him, and America does too. But then one day Jean Girard (Sacha Baron-Cohen), a slimy French rat straight from the sodomitic sludge of “Formula Un,” arrives and takes Ricky’s crown. To be bested is one thing, but to be bested by a man whose country approves of a diplomatic solution in the Middle East is another. This is where the clothes come off (Ferrell just can’t seem to resist exposing his supple, rosy flesh) and Ricky’s descent into Pizza Hut obscurity begins. It’s also where Talladega Nights becomes unwatchable. As Ricky Bobby is forced to pick up the pieces of his shattered ego, the film degenerates, as Anchorman did before it, into a succession of increasingly obnoxious tantrums. Ferrell seems to find these funny, but to me they’re just painful.
In the end, it’s the supporting characters (Baron-Cohen in particular) and the incredibly shot racing scenes that save Talladega. While, for some, it’s enough to simply sense how much fun the actors on screen are having, others wish said actors would worry a bit more about the paying customers in the dark.
Last Thursday, the Toronto International Film Festival made two big announcements, one of which will effect you and one of which probably won’t. The announcement that contains the biggest marquee names won’t really change your festival very much, though it will make it more likely you’ll be enjoying your gnocchi next to an Academy Award winner. It seems the lucky 22 Canadian filmmakers chosen to participate in TIFF’s Talent Lab program will be blessed by the presence of London, Ontario’s own Paul Haggis. The producer, director and screenwriter of last year’s heavy-handed Oscar-winner, Crash, will be joined by celebrated local author and occasional filmmaker Michael Ondaatje (whose The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film is a sublime read), Rabbit-Proof Fence Producer Philip Noyce, Notorious Bettie Page director Mary Harron, The Piano-producer Jan Chapman and sometimes-genius Brian DePalma (Scarface and The Untouchables).
Also announced Thursday was the fact that TIFF has added 13 new titles to its Discovery Series. You won’t have heard of many of these kids, especially since six of the lot are world premieres (making the total Discovery programme total eight). That said, be sure to catch: * Sean Ellis’ Cashback, the feature-length development of his Oscar-winning short of the same name. Cashback tells the story of an art-school grad who, in an effort to cure his insomnia, takes a job on the night shift at his local grocery store. * Paul Andrew Williams’ London to Brighton, which follows the lives of a prostitute and a young runaway as they escape the seedy underbelly of Britain’s capital. If you’re thinking that this sounds like typical grey, British dirty realism, early rumblings suggest you’re wrong. Think Mike Leigh’s Naked instead. * South Korean director Joon-ik Lee’s King and the Clown, a film portraying the awkward love affair between a king, his concubine and a pair of court clowns. This period comedy drama has been a record-breaking box office sensation in Korea. * Özer Kiziltan’s Takva- A Man’s Fear of God, an explosive look at the inner workings of an Islamic sect as seen through the eyes of Muharrem, a devotee who soon comes to question his relationship with the divine. For details about the rest of the Discovery Program, check out the TIFF news release.”