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Toronto Day 7: Sex happens

Posted by Wesley Morris  September 12, 2008 12:25 AM

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At almost every big international festival some trend emerges. The other day when the subject came up here during lunch with two friends, one said, "Bedwetting." We laughed. But today during my lowest ever day at this great film festival (I went about four for four), I found a real trend one: woman as penis receptacle. Or something like that.

In "Deadgirl," some American high school boys find a girl's corpse and proceed to maul it. Don't worry: she's half alive! And chained to a dungeon wall. In an abandoned insane asylum. The movie is made by people who don't appear ever to have left their school cafeteria, let alone their suburb. If one of those torture pornographers had tried to make, I don't know, "Weird Science," it would go something like this.

I ran straight from into "Deadgirl" into "Dioses," in which a spoiled Peruvian teen tries to rape his model sister while she's passed out, drunk, and a few weeks pregnant. Could it be his? This sounds like a particularly bad episode of "Lima 90210," but the director Josué Mendez appears to be going for social commentary on the moral atrocities of the upper classes. He never gets there. The maids, all indigenous, are as non-charismatic as they are in everybody else's movies. And if Mendez can't find an excuse for either of his female leads to take of their tops or have the camera ogle them, he'll have them do it just because they can. Between this and "Máncora," which was at Sundance in January, Peru evidently needs to let a director with some ideas get behind the camera.

Less appalling but still irritating, Matt Aselton's "Gigantic" is a sitcommy, Wes Anderson Xerox with Zooey Deschanel giving herself inexplicably to Paul Dano, who sells high-end mattresses. His job is proof that these movies are running out of quirks. (Aselton, making his first movie, appears to be auditioning for some future Kate Hudson-Wilson brother comedy. Godspeed.) Dano's character doesn't earn it. He's passive, inarticulate, and depressed. But Deschanel loves him. Never mind that the movie stints on actual intercourse. As in the case in a lot American independent-ish movies, if you didn't know what sex was, you'd think it was something over-medicated Muppets did for fun. It's not sexy or sensual or even interesting, just a joke that's never funny. Of course, Deschanel seems fine with staying girlishly cute forever. Doesn't anybody other than Vin Diesel want to be Kathleen Turner anymore?

I kept thinking of the movies I could have been watching during all this -- a new Amos Gitai, a new Pontecorvo, something called "Chocolate" from the world's most exciting filmmaking country (Thailand). But nooo, I was watching weird sexual assaults. Festivals are all about choices, and I made some bad ones. The day wasn't a complete wash, though.

The most tolerable time I spent in the dark was with Barry Jenkin's "Medicine for Melancholy." It doesn't completely work (neither does that title) but it has its moments, as it tries - OK struggles - to reconcile being a romantic comedy with two black people that is not a romantic comedy about two black people.

Inflected with realism, it's one of those morning-after-the one-night-stand comedies. Boy and girl wake up from a night after a party. They sneak out together. She leaves her wallet in the cab they share, he delivers it, and they proceed to walk around San Francisco. My experience with such things tells me that her intense indifference to him would make this movie impossible. But the guy, played by the comedian Wyatt Cenac, is charming. And she, for some reason, is sufficiently bored enough to go along with him. The "she," incidentally, is Tracey Heggins who gave me a Tracy Camilla Johns hotflash. Johns of course was the "she" in Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It," which Jenkins's movie is seriously indebted to.

There's a lot of promise in "Melancholy." But it's digressive and, even by the standards of some realism, occasionally dull. Jenkins is too late in raising all his frustrations with being a young indie-loving black person in San Francisco (the minoritiest of minorities). The characters, by extension, become interesting too late. Still, it was a relief to see a movie with a women who appeared to enjoy having sex with a man. Even if for most of it, I don't know why.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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