TIFF: Tom Hiddleston Rises Above Hank Williams Biopic ‘I Saw the Light,’ Could …

13 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Hiddleston plays down Oscars talk over Hank Williams role.

Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen proved even movie stars can’t resist a delicious-looking cake while at the I Saw the Light premiere afterparty Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival. Like a sonnet, or a hymn, Hank Williams’ songs are timeless both because of and in spite of their structural limitations, using primary colors to drill down to the primary essences of the most primary human emotions. The film — which was adapted from Colin Escott’s Williams biography and directed by Marc Abraham, a prolific producer whose only other directorial credit is 2008’s Flash of Genius — has received mixed notices, taking flack for its sluggish pacing, a superfluous framing device and its resemblance to a plethora of other recent films about troubled musicians, such as 2005’s similar-sounding Walk the Line. But the movie, directed by David Gordon Green, starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton as a pair of dueling campaign consultants, is nearly as fierce.

Unfortunately, Marc Abraham’s Williams biopic “I Saw the Light” fails to mirror its subject, focusing on the footnotes, the asides and the marginalia instead of the singular genius at its center. But another Williams standard, “Lovesick Blues,” would have been a more appropriate designation for this heavily dramatic recreation of the man’s short and turbulent life, in a film that focuses more on his many marital woes than it does on the brilliant music he created. That being said, praise has been widespread for Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Williams, who, following a short but sensational career, became one of the first big music stars to die young from drink and drugs.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Audrey in the film, so when she sings as the character — opposite Tom Hiddleston’s Hank the First — the actress told us she made she sure to be off-key as needed: “Some people may like my voice and some people may not. Speaking on the red carpet at the premiere at the Ryerson Theatre in Toronto, Hiddleston said: “His music has left this extraordinary legacy and the songs he wrote like Hey, Good Lookin’ and Cold, Cold Heart and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your Cheatin’ Heart were country standards that singers like Ray Charles and Tony Bennett and Johnny Cash went on to cover, so I knew the songs but I didn’t realise he was so young when he died. “He was 29 years old and left this legacy, Bob Dylan talks about his legacy, Bruce Springsteen talks about him and in some of his early songs you can hear rock and roll. “There is a song called Move It On Over and you can hear Rock Around The Clock coming round the corner in 10 years’ time, so that was really exciting to me to realise where Hank sits in the stepping stones of 20th century music.” Asked about the comparisons between Williams’s fame and the attention Hiddleston has received, he said: “His version of fame was very extreme and there is something more naked about being a singer-songwriter than being an actor perhaps, but certainly I think he struggled with the commercialism of what came from his heart and soul. “He used to say ‘they are slicing me up and selling me like baloney’, so I think he really struggled with the idea that he was part of a machine that was about making money, whereas for him it was about communicating something to people and sharing that feeling and any creative person can relate to it in some way.” Hiddleston has already been mentioned as a possible contender in the best actor race when the Academy Awards roll around in 2016, but he said it is too far away to contemplate. “I can’t really comment on that because it all seems so imaginary, it’s really nothing to do with me in a way, so we will see what people say when they see the film.” Carried by an uncanny turn from British actor Tom Hiddleston, who convincingly swaps his Loki helmet and staff for a cowboy hat and guitar, the story – based on the nonfiction book by Colin Escott – features the usual ups, downs, binge-drinking and womanizing of your typical artist’s biography, with lots of screen time devoted to Williams’s extremely rocky marriage to wife Audrey, played with zest by Elizabeth Olsen (swapping her own Avengers attire for a full country western wardrobe). Evergreen interest in Williams’ music — and curiosity at how well such an indelibly British actor can channel it — may drive initial box office for this Sony Classics release, but it’s unlikely to set the woods on fire.

The film telegraphs its stylistic confusion from the very start, beginning on a black-and-white faux interview segment with Williams’ publisher Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford), followed by an a cappella performance of “Cold, Cold Heart” which may or may not be a dream sequence. Premiering in Toronto and set for a November release via Sony Pictures Classics, this fall prestige picture could garner kudos for its strong lead performances, with Hiddleston bellowing Williams’s ditties like no actor ever has.

The film’s best moments are those in which Hiddleston shares the screen with Elizabeth Olsen, the talented actress who plays Williams’ beautiful first wife, Audrey, an ambitious but talent-lacking singer. At the end of Marc Abraham’s mostly dull, once or twice blindingly inspired biopic, we learn how much success Williams crammed into his brief career: 11m albums, 36 Billboard hits. Those two false starts out of the way, the pic then dives straight into the heart of the story, with 21-year-old Williams (Hiddleston) and the recently divorced Audrey (Olsen) abruptly getting married at an Alabama gas station.

Not yet particularly famous, Williams is making a steady living as a musician, though his drinking is already putting a strain on his regular gig at a local radio station, and Audrey’s insistence on singing with him — despite her less-than-Carter-Family-caliber voice — is putting a a strain on their marriage. Chronicling the period between 1944, when 21-one-year-old Hank married Audrey at a Texaco station in Alabama, to his death in 1953 due to excessive alcohol and drug abuse, Abraham’s screenplay follows the singer’s rise from local radio performer to bestselling country superstar, with a string of hits that topped the charts and allowed him to join the coveted Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville. For full coverage of the 2015 Toronto Film Festival – including the hottest premieres, the biggest stars and the buzziest films – check out people.com/tiff, instyle.com and ew.com Indeed, a few of the of their scenes together — when he casually denigrates her abilities, when he attempts to reconcile with her after a separation, when she tells him she’s pregnant — make the film worth watching and preserve some possibility that awards voters will set aside their frustrations with the film and recognize the bona fides of its lead performances.

Choosing to concentrate on Williams as a drunken philanderer first and a musical genius second, the film returns to these two basic conflicts again and again as it proceeds chronologically through the last decade of his life. But as much as we get a sampling of Williams’s best work, with Hiddleston offering up compelling renditions of classics like “Move it on Over,” “Lovesick Blues” and “Why Don’t You Love Me,” the bulk of the film involves his tried-and-tested relationship with Audrey, depicted at times as a sort of Yoko Ono who could have destroyed his career. The sparse laughs come mostly through audience anxiety – when our hero remarks that “everybody has a little darkness in them” (by this stage, it’s quite an understatement); when an ex tells him, “Hank, you are really screwed up.” The problems begin early, with two misleading pre-title scenes.

There are several gags involving Audrey’s imperfect (though by no means unbearable) singing voice, which she forced upon Williams and his band despite his casually aggressive protestations. We don’t really get a tangible sense of his rise to the top — nor do we get more than a passing glimpse at him actually composing a song — but the crowds at his shows grow larger in tandem with his increasing lust for booze and women, and before long he’s reading divorce papers and developing a reputation for flaking on gigs. And there are lots of scenes devoted to the couple’s constant, increasingly violent spats (one involving a loaded gun), with the two of them going at it like Ralph and Alice in The Honeymooners, one-liners included. Heslov served as a writer and a producer.) The film follows the exploits of American political consultants as they take control of a Bolivian presidential campaign.

He could be charming on one occasion and brutal on another, and Hiddleston has a terrific way of making Williams’s less forgivable behavior seem playful and amusing, and only really harmful to himself. Even the singer’s death is bungled, with Rose’s faux documentary footage giving us all sorts of details on the reasons Williams had to hire a random university student to drive him to a New Year’s gig, but Abraham neglects to film the fateful trip. And while the film tries to structure itself around that aspect of Williams’s life, it starts churning in circles as his relationships all turn sour and he hits the bottle – and needle – so hard he’ll never make it out alive.

Not that those entirely fictionalized moments aren’t well performed, and Olsen is equally impressive as a woman who seems to bully her way right into Hank’s world, only to bully her way out when the going gets way too tough. Then again, perhaps that effort is a little too obvious: While Hiddleston wears his character’s Southernness like a carefully tailored suit, Olsen’s seems to have seeped several layers beneath her skin, and she brings a vital sense of lived-in authenticity to her scenes.

Those sequences, as well as one where Williams is questioned by a New York reporter (David Krumholtz), offer some insights into his thought process, though he doesn’t reveal a whole lot – which is maybe why it’s always been hard to craft a biopic around him. Moore, who spoke in a staged conversation here on Friday morning, plays a character pointed toward marital collapse in “Maggie’s Plan.” That one is directed by Rebecca Miller and screens here on Saturday, and is for sale at the festival’s associated film market.

With fame comes further opportunities for boozing, womanising, flaking on concerts – and clocking increasing and mysterious back pain as he travels cross-country. Instead there are muddled moments of low tension involving his contract – music biopics often overestimate audience investment in the business end – and, as the film progresses, an increasing slide into all kinds of torment. Moore said, “Oh, my gosh, those people have been married for a long time and it’s all going wrong, I know that.” She is supposed to be a slightly monstrous mother and professional academic from Denmark. “She’s not monstrous,” she’s just Danish said Cameron Bailey, the Toronto festival director who was quizzing Ms. Camera (color/B&W), Dante Spinotti; editor, Alan Heim; music, Aaron Zigman; music supervisor, Carter Little; production designers, Meredith Boswell; art director, Rob Simons, costume designer, Lahly Poore-Ericson; sound, Steven C. And, as his leading actor gets into the groove, so the director settles with him, ditching handheld for a steadicam, permitting long scenes that hold focus, and which the stars repay in spades.

Moore plays Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police detective who, before dying, waged a fight to have her survivor pension benefits paid to a domestic partner, played by Ellen Page. And what it suggests about how sceptical a performer you can be for people to still take succor from your work, to buy into its sincerity, is curious – and bruising.

The framing is erratic, logic shonky and for every cliche Abraham confounds (the call not to use any music other than that which Hank performs is admirable), there’s three he clings to (barely a letter goes by without being read aloud). Moore sees problems in America: education, health care, military employment, race and gender equality. “I think the press out there thinks that Ed Snowden is coming on the stage,” Mr. Exiting the cinema, the woman next to me said she wished she’d looked up which year Williams died beforehand so she knew how much longer there was to run.

Given the drama and heartache of his short story, and the commitment of the man playing him, it takes a rare kind of talent to make a movie about him such a dirge. The main event was Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room,” a nasty thriller about a punk band that takes a gig it wishes it hadn’t and must face down a group of neo-Nazis headed by Patrick Stewart. Saulnier simply answered “yes.” If you’re among those who thought Jake Gyllenhaal would never find a role weirder than Louis Bloom, the sociopathic news videographer of “Nightcrawler,” think again. Vallee took the stage at the Princess of Wales theater on Thursday night, it became entirely clear why “Demolition” is showing here, a full seven months before its planned release on April 8 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Vallee, who is from Montreal, has a close, warm bond with audiences in Toronto, where he has introduced several of his films, including “Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” And he’ll need their good will to get the public in line with a picture in which Naomi Watts, as a troubled consumer complaints staffer for a vending machine business, and the relative newcomer Judah Lewis, as her son, are only slightly less C.R.A.Z.Y. than Mr.

Here are five reasons Toronto matters so much: TIFF is considered the major launchpad for the awards season and starts on the first Thursday after Labor Day. In 2014, the festival doled out some 1,200 media credentials, and studios take advantage of having stars and journalists in one place by banging out junket after junket. “It’s like a worldwide gathering point,” one studio publicist said. “With all the international press and the casts there at once, a lot can be banked for the remainder of the season.” For East Coasters and Europeans alike, this Canadian city is an ideal destination. It helps that everyone speaks English, and the festival’s thousands of volunteers are friendly and as helpful as can be, happily ushering film lovers through the city’s squeaky clean streets. Among the famous people who graced TIFF last year: Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon, Naomi Watts, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack and, delightfully, Bill Murray, who was feted with his very own Bill Murray Day.

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