Every September when the world renowned TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) takes over the film headlines, the lesser known (yet possibly more influential?) PIFF (Philadelphia Film Festival) sneaks into town. Beginning the year I moved to Philly, feeling the void of not attending TIFF, 2019 marks our fourth festival (PIFFour if you will). For one week once a year, filmgoers from across the city (ie Mike) see as many films as possible. This year wasn’t my highest attended festival (9 in total), yet it might have been the best quality overall. Below are the reviews of 2019’s PIFF. I’ve also included TIFF’s People’s Choice Winner in case you missed it, and this year’s Person’s Choice Winner.
Flying Home On An Airplane Double Feature-
The Animated Sleeper- Missing Link: I missed this one during its short lived theatrical release. Flying home from Seattle, it seemed completely fitting that I watched a movie exploring the what if the Sasquatch actually existed. Laika is the only other animation studio that comes close to matching Pixar with its smart stories, clever humour, and stunning visuals. And despite the fantastical set up, the actions and reactions to the characters and stories are more grounded (and a little dark). Missing Link isn’t the studio’s strongest, yet compared to other animated movies this year (looking at you, Secret Lives Of Pets 2), this is an underrated sleeper hit. A charming cast carries this movie, as the characters (and the audience) explore big ideas like why do we fight so blindly for what we think is right, even when we know it’s wrong; why do we lead with fear and isolation instead of curiosity and support; and finally what do we need in others and ourselves to be satisfied enough.
The Teen Drama- The Sun Is Also A Star: You’ll have more fun starring at the sun than watching this movie. The cast seemed rigid, and although there was some curious metaphors, and a playful idea of the science of falling in love, this just wasn’t fun. Dull like a star that burnt out years ago.
Today’s Blockbuster– It Chapter 2: I’ve been waiting years for this movie, which set up for overblown red balloon expectations. With the back half of Stephen King’s tale of a fear mongering clown, I wanted good scares, a solid cast, a closure to the coming of age story, and a satisfying finale. I jumped a lot more, and that opening scene (which is in the book) had me feeling sick. Sitting beside Derrick (who only likes sunshine) and his intense clutch also heightened the experience. The perfectly cast adult actors generally felt underused, outside of that great restaurant scene. I was expecting the focus to stay more on Beverly, Ben and Bill (like Chapter 1), yet was pleasantly surprised how most of the development landed on Eddie and Richie. The ending had such a build up, that its sudden and silly resolution ultimately popped. Yet, it was surrounded by such a solid meaningful story (rare for a horror)) that it was forgivable and forgettable. Overall, I was engaged from start to end. A satisfying enough finale with unreal expectations. After the credits rolled, Pennywise’s shadow lingered: a sleepless night for me, seeing clowns and shadows in the glow of our bedroom lights, and Derrick waking up screaming that night. Enjoy!
Double Feature: Betrayal and Slave Play
This is the avant-garde part of this year’s festival. I took PIFF on the road to catch two of the newest plays on Broadway (why not?).
Betrayal: A West End transfer revival of Pinter’s 3 person classic starring
Loki Tom Hiddleston, Daredevil Charlie Cox just arrived on Broadway. It’s the age old story of a woman having an affair with her husband’s best friend. What makes this story fresh is how it’s told backwards. We open on the wife and best friend trying to make sense of their affair gone wrong. Then scene by scene, we work our way back to the beginning of said affair. We think we know what we know until we don’t. It’s clever and it works. The performances are incredibly paced (they use pauses… a lot). The set is stark and effective, and the constant addition of the character who is not in the scene being on stage really works (there’s never just two people in an affair). It would be a betrayal to miss this limited run.
Slave Play: This might hurt. This could prod open regrets and secrets and what you find could be shock. But there’s nothing in Slave Pay that part of you doesn’t already know. The setting: a plantation. Time: irrelevant. Lights up on a Black work working. This is noted in the program by Morgan Parker, and would be my recommendation of all you need to know before seeing the show. And you should see this show. The set is simple yet powerful. The cast are invested. The story is unexpected and urgent. This play is surprisingly funny, dark, provocative and welcoming just enough to get you to the emotional intense finale. Then, as you rise from your seat, you get to sit with your thoughts and decide what’s next.
The Indie– Brittany Runs A Marathon: Another true story, this one focused on stripping back the layers of how we approach the world and ourselves. This is not the straight feel good comedy as it’s been promoted. It’s about flawed likable characters who have lost themselves completely in an every demanding world of shoulds and wants. It explores the struggle to lace up, and run out the door when things are uncertain. It’s less about the finish line and truly about the training runs to get there. It’s about pausing when we’re struggling, and choosing what and who we focus our energy on. It’s honest, frustrating, inspiring, and ultimately just feel good enough. So put on your running shoes and get to the theatres now.
The Doc- Honeyland: A stunning documentary focused on a woman living in the mountains of Macedonia, cultivating honey and doing what she must, to go day to day, and to provide for her aging mother. A family moves in next door, and in short, ruins her life. A fresh, unique movie. It’s wandering, raw, frustrating and beautiful.
So that about wraps this year’s festival! Thank you all for attending, and if you missed this year, join us for our 5th season next September.
In less meaningful news, in case you missed it, this year’s People’s Choice Award Winner at TIFF was… JoJo Rabbit!
And the news you’ve really been waiting for…. After a late night of tallying the ballot, this year’s PIFF award goes to….
Brittany Runs A Marathon! It has all of the feels that a great movie in my mind runs for. Flawed characters, solid closure, tears and laughs, and a healthy self reflection as the credits roll.