By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 15, 2009 at 9:45AM
The new Bob Berney/Bill Pohlad combine scored quite a coup by pre-buying, sight unseen, off a set visit and a script, the new Jane Campion film Bright Star, which screened well Friday morning for the press corps. I caught Berney and Pohlad on the Croisette Friday, beaming over the favorable early reaction. They're opening the film on September 18. "Toronto will be the launch of the campaign," said Berney. Awards season is in their sights, but the prime target audience will be teenage girls, says Berney. Pohlad and Berney still haven't cleared the name of their company, which was hard to choose. "We have to live with it for a while," says Berney, who saw Bright Star two weeks ago.
At the press conference (which the fest notates here), Campion explained that wanting to spend time with her daughter, who is 13, prevented her from making more movies. Since she won the Palme d'Or with The Piano in 1993, she's made only three features: The Portrait of a Lady, Holy Smoke, and In the Cut, which was six years ago.
Bright Star was worth waiting for. The writer-director focuses on the short-lived, tragic, unconsummated 19th century romance of neighbors, poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and seamstress Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who fell in love but could not marry because he had no money. He lived on the meager offerings of such friends and patrons as Charles Armitage Brown (played in full Scots mode by American Paul Schneider). Campion relied heavily on Keats' witty letters to recreate this world, and pushed her actors to be natural and authentic. The movie is lushly realized in impeccable period detail. It may skew toward Anglophiles and women, but if Berney handles it right and the film finds an audience, it could wind up in the Academy's sweet spot (cinematography, production design, screenplay, directing, costumes, best actress, best actor, and score, among other things).
Also screened for the press today was Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, a surprisingly comedic behind-the-scenes look at some of the people involved in mounting the iconic 1969 music festival on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Comedy Central star Demetri Martin is well-cast as Elliot, the closeted gay son of uptight Jewish parents running a seedy Catskills motel, expertly played by Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman, who are hilarious. The ensemble is sprawling and first-rate, from Eugene Levy as wily farmer Max Yasgur and Liev Schrieber as a cross-dressing ex-Marine, to breakout theater actor Jonathan Groff (Hair) as concert promoter Michael Lang.
This movie won't be for everyone, but it worked for me. As a teenager, I drove by Woodstock on Route 17, saw the traffic jams and helicopters, and to my neverending regret, failed to convince my aunt to take us there. Lee (with help from his frequent collaborator, writer James Schamus, who adapted the memoirs of Elliot Tiber) captures the crazy era without losing control of a movie that shifts its tone from scene to scene. THR's Gregg Kilday interviews Ang Lee.