TIFF 2011 Day 3: The Odds; Jeff, Who Lives At Home; Keyhole

A Canadian analogue of Rian Johnson’s Brick, The Odds similarly cross-breeds film noir and high school drama, this time focusing on high-stakes gambling instead of drug dealing. And while it doesn’t make the same impact as Johnson’s film — writer/director Simon Davidson doesn’t have quite the same ear for slang or eye for stylish composition, and the script hits the occasional bum note — it does a respectable job of maintaining the momentum of its makeshift PI’s quest. When high schooler Barry Lipke hangs himself in the garage, his best friend, Desson, doesn’t believe it’s a suicide, especially since Barry phoned him at 4am revelling in a big win. The search for the truth mostly involves circling the same characters and locales, each time eking out a bit more info and inviting that much more danger. A teen romance feels fairly superficial, but that’s not exactly inappropriate either. Desson’s dad, meanwhile, is an interesting character in need of a more fleshed out arc: Robery Moloney plays him with just the right touch of constant confusion, but his story never quite comes into focus.

Jason Segall is Jeff, a 30-year-old pothead who lives in the basement of uptight mother Susan Sarandon. Jeff’s unflinching belief that every coincidence is significant means a wrong number puts him on a quest to find his destiny, a journey that also spirals into helping his brother (Ed Helms) sort out his rapidly dissolving marriage to Judy Greer. There’s a very likeable loopiness to Jeff’s quest, which seems to meander from setpiece to setpiece but is actually building to something greater. Helms manages to bring some genuine depth to what could’ve been a generic asshole character. The ending takes a plunge from likeably goofy into not-exactly-earned emotional heft, but it’s winning enough throughout that you’re likely to be swept along anyway. Besides, any cynicism towards that ending would miss the point of the rest, which posits Jeff’s Dude-like Zen philosophy as a necessary (though not easy) antidote to Helms’ egocentric approach to life.

I never know how to write about Guy Maddin’s films (which means it’s probably good that I decided not to do my thesis on him). An oddyssey of memory and regret, Keyhole is about a gangster named Ulysses exploring a home haunted by the ghosts of his extended family. Like any Maddin movie, though, just because the premise is easily expressed doesn’t mean the movie is easily understood. All of Maddin’s ticks are fully in place: absurd humour, full-frontal nudity of all kinds, heavy doses of Freudianism and art school cinematography can all be trying at times, but somehow the director always comes across more playful than pretentious. On the downside, Keyhole has no real emotional climax, which would seem unforgivable when tackling these sorts of themes. And yet, here I am forgiving it on the strength of Maddin’s personality. It’s a ghost story, a gangster movie, a family drama, a reflection of Maddin’s roiling id, and as messy as it is, it’s hard to look away.

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