Saturday, February 24, 2024

Surprise Toronto Film Fest Upset: Harvey Weinstein Comes Back Strong with Kevin Hart-Bryan Cranston Comedy


Day 2 in Toronto started with a disappointment but then all systems were ‘go.’ George Clooney’s “Suburbicon” didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. More on that later.

In succession there were three pretty terrific offerings. First “The Florida Project” starring Willem Dafoe and a cast of newcomers was absolutely charming. Sean Baker’s follow up to “Tangerine” couldn’t be lovelier. The Indie Spirit and Gotham Awards should eat it up. It’s sort of like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” set in Orlando at Disney World.

Then Aaron Sorkin made his directing debut from a script he wrote adapting the memoir “Molly’s Game” by Molly Bloom. Jessica Chastain is simply sensational as Molly, with Idris Elba and Kevin Costner doing excellent supporting work. Chastain should reap an Oscar nomination– and maybe a win. Sorkin’s writing is actually musical. His screenplay shines as usual. What a thrill all the way around.

But then the big surprise was Harvey Weinstein’s rabbit out of a hat. Neil Burger directs the American version of “The Intouchables,” now called “The Upside.” Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, and Nicole Kidman star, with a disarming cameo by Julianna Margulies. No one thought this remake would work, and no one believed Kevin Hart could act. But guess what? Harvey Weinstein has a potentially huge hit here.

Big news: this film will have an Oscar qualifying run the last week of December. It’s that rarest of hybrids– a commercial and critical success, and a comedy to boot. “The Upside” has no downside. Wonderful work by all involved. Burger, whom I’ve always admired, hits every right note. Cranston and Hart have a wonderful rapport. Kidman is luminous– and she dances in the film!

Value added: I’m not sure she knows this, but three Aretha Franklin tracks are heard, she’s referred to in the film as The Queen. Her recording of “Nessum Dorma” is a big part of the movie.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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