By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 27, 2008 at 5:38AM
Of the films I've seen, three masterful performances by women could take off in Toronto.
Rachel Weisz steals the show from romantic interest Adrien Brody and his fellow con-man, Mark Ruffalo, in Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson's follow-up to his Sundance debut film, Brick. The caper comedy continues Johnson's high-style reinvention of past genres; I suspect it will play to a hip young audience. It's intricately plotted light fun, in the vein of Two for the Road, The List of Adrian Messenger, The Sting, House of Games (Ricky Jay narrates) or Topkapi (Maximillian Schell has a role in Bloom).
Johnson finished the script nine months after Brick's debut at the 2005 Sundance fest. Producer Ram Bergman raised money from Jim Stern's Endgame for the movie, which finally came in under $20 million. The filmmakers used four locations-- Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, and New Jersey-- to cover for ten key locales. And while the movie twists and turns, it doesn't go where you expect. Summit picked it up last December and will mount a commercial October release; it's not heading for awards contention.
Post her Constant Gardener Oscar win, Weisz was the first one in on Brothers Bloom, recognizing a juicy role in the reclusive, brainy heiress starving for love and experience who is drawn into the brothers Bloom's elaborate con game. "It was a tricky character," Johnson says. "She did a lot of work on the energy level to make it feel genuine. It could have been the sum of her quirks. She put life behind it. She was fearless."
Brit auteur Mike Leigh turns lighter with Happy-Go-Lucky, which stars Sally Hawkins as a wackily ebullient school teacher. She cares about people, and no matter how dark the world around her gets, it doesn't take her long to recover her footing and keep on looking at the bright side of life. She's hilarious, joyful, and probably, to some, a tad annoying. Leigh throws her into some trying situations, and asks why such a winning charmer doesn't find a mate. By film's end, there is some hope on that front. Hawkins won the best actress prize at Berlin, and could build some awards momentum if Miramax manages the film with a sure hand.
Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy debuted at Cannes, where it scored rave reviews from Variety and Cinematical. I can see why. While I found Reichardt's Old Joy tedious and pedantic, this small-scale intimate drama is sure-footed and precise, and entirely focused on Michelle Williams as a young woman, Wendy, stuck in an Oregon town en route to Alaska. She is vulnerable and alone and devastated when her car breaks down and she loses her dog, Lucy.
Again, given the right handling--tiny distrib Oscilloscope is releasing the pic December 7--Williams could get some attention for this moving role. (She's also part of Charlie Kaufman's sprawling ensemble in Synecdoche, New York, which will show in Toronto.) Williams just suffered a tough year, with the death of her child's father, Heath Ledger, who co-starred with her in Brokeback Mountain, for which they both earned Oscar noms. Williams' Wendy and Lucy performance is a sad, four-handkerchief tour-de-force. It's a long shot, but if enough actors see this movie, Williams and Ledger could both be nominated in the same year, again.