Anna Kendrick is perhaps best known for her break out role as the ambitious Human Resources person in Up in the Air who suggests conducting layoffs via videoconferencing to save money. Her performance opposite George Clooney created a stir at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and now she’s back at TIFF with a much different movie.
The Last Five Years is a musical based on Jason Robert Brown’s Off-Broadway hit of same name. It’s the story of the five-year relationship between actress Cathy and her novelist husband Jamie, played by Smash star Jeremy Jordan. It’s told from two different perspectives. Her storyline begins with the breakdown of the relationship. His starts at the beginning (it’s a very good place to start, as they say in musical theatre) as they court and eventually marry.
Kendrick, last sang on screen in Pitch Perfect and will soon be seen as Cinderella in the much anticipated movie version of Into the Woods, says the decision to sing live in front of the cameras, instead of prerecording in studio, aided her performance of the complex role.
“Doing it live was something we wanted to do whenever possible,” she says. “We didn’t want to make a point of it or be precious about it because it was equally important for us to be visually dynamic and change locations and be outside occasionally. I thought I would feel that the pre-recorded days would be a breeze, but it was so much easier to act the songs live because you weren’t retroactively going, ‘Oh yeah, that’s how I was playing that in the recording booth four weeks ago.’ So doing it live was a physical challenge, because, you know, it’s your voice, but it was so much easier to be present and honest and all that with singing live.”
Kendrick plays a struggling actress and in one memorable scene details the pain of auditioning for roles. In the Climbing Uphill sequence she sings, “I’m up ev’ry morning at six, And standing in line, With two hundred girls who are younger and thinner than me.” It;’s a feeling Kendrick says she knows well.
“It’s a competitive business by nature,” she says. “I know that room and that line of two hundred girls. I didn’t have to dig all that deep to know the anxiety and self-doubt. That was a fun thing to perform and see inside her head and talk about the indignity of not being paid attention to when you are trying to perform for somebody.”
Even though she is a Tony nominee for her work on Broadway in High Society and has starred in high profile films like Twilight and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World she says she still auditions.
“If there is something really incredible everybody wants it so I audition,” she says. I see friends of mine and we’re all in business suits and then at the next one we’re all in leather jackets. I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is so embarrassing.’ But that is the grind.”
If you can’t make it to the Toronto International Film Festival but still want to get a flavour of the films, the Reel Guys — Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin — have some movies and some memories for you. They’ve been attending the festival for years and have seen it all, from actors’ tears to classic films to medical emergencies to stars being born. It’s a wild time, but like Dr. Hunter S. Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Richard: Mark, I’ve been going to TIFF for 30 years and covering it for almost 20 so I can’t even begin to imagine how many movies I’ve seen in the 10 days after the first Thursday after Labour Day. Hundreds? Thousands? Somewhere in between, I’m sure. There have been many standouts, but my mind immediately goes to Lost in Translation. Perhaps because it’s Bill Murray Day (isn’t every day?), but I remember walking out of that theatre thinking I had just seen a star being born. Bill Murray was great, but Scarlett Johansson was memorable. She had been in things before, but that movie and TIFF made her a star that day.
Mark: Great film, Richard, but I saw it on a rainy night in Vancouver. If you want to go way, way back, I saw the gala premiere of The Big Chill at University Theatre in 1983. It was the first film that channeled baby boomer angst and it hit me hard — in a good way. So many great performances, but I still remember William Hurt and Kevin Kline. Meg Tilly has the best line when she says, “I don’t know many happy people. What are they like?”
RC: One of the things that happens at TIFF is you see movies that never open anywhere for some reason. What Doesn’t Kill You, a gritty crime drama set in South Boston starring Ethan Hawke, Mark Ruffalo and Amanda Peet, was one of those. I really liked the movie and I hosted the press conference and that’s where something really memorable, for me, happened. During the conference, I looked over and Ruffalo had his head in his hands. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening. Was he tired? Taking a break from the conversation? Asleep? Turns out the conversation and questions had made him emotional and he was crying. I didn’t expect him to break down into tears and be unable to speak, but Hawke jumped in and spoke about how Ruffalo is a committed actor who completely throws himself into his roles.
MB: There’s more to that story … Just before the press conference, for no apparent reason, I shivved Ruffalo in the left kidney, and he must have been in a lot of pain. But I know what you mean by movies that don’t open. The film immediately disappeared. Then there was the recent Lebanese movie The Attack, which was a harrowing story of a Palestinian doctor who finds out his wife is a terrorist. After the film, the director did a Q&A describing death threats he got and the tribulations he endured just to get the film made. It was almost as good as the film itself.
RC: You never know what will happen at the screenings, whether it’s a wild Q&A or the audience reaction. A few years ago the amputation sequence in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, was so intense several members of the audience required medical attention.
MB: Sometimes the volume of movies you see yields unexpected results. I remember the Saturday night I saw Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air immediately followed by the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. My two favourite movies of 2009, back to back!
“Up in the Air,” the third film from director Jason Reitman, takes the best elements from his first two films, “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking” and molds them into one seamless package.
George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a high flying “termination engineer” who fires people for a living. Hired by independent companies, he flies from city to city doing the dirty work when it comes to mass lay offs. He’s perfectly suited to the job and with the recent global economic downturn, cousin, business is a boomin’. He’s a road warrior who loves the perks of the job, the air miles—his goal is to hit the 10,000,000 mile mark—the status cards and life in airports. On the road 322 days a year (“That leaves 43 miserable days at home,” he says.) he says all the stuff that people hate about traveling—the recycled air, the artificial light and warm sushi—are the things that remind him that he is home. Other than his job he’s commitment free, other than the odd woman he meets in an airport or hotel bar, like Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow road warrior who gets “turned on by Elite status.” His carefully constructed life may come crashing down, however, when his boos (Jason Bateman) hires Nathalie (Anna Kendrick), a know-it-all IT expert who has an idea that may ground him permanently.
It’s possible that George Clooney is the only actor working today who could make Ryan Bingham likeable. He uses every ounce of his considerable charm to make this man who treats commitment like a disease and fires people for a living bearable, much less likeable but he does. If he didn’t the movie wouldn’t work on the level it does, it would simply be a smug (and timely) social satire on how some people have found ways to benefit from the recent economic downturn. Instead it’s a heartfelt portrait of a man who tries his best to isolate himself from the pain and hurt of real life (and his job). Clooney, in what may be his strongest outing yet, combines bravado and vulnerability in one very appealing package.
Jason Reitman has found a balance in style between the heartfelt clarity of “Juno” and the biting satire of “Thank You for Smoking. He’s pitch perfect with the tone, mixing cynical with witty, creating one of the nerviest movies of the year. Opening a comedy about firing people when job market is on red alert takes some stones, but Reitman wisely attacks the subject head on, using vignettes of recently terminated people as a sad comment on the times we live in. Those scenes add some profound emotional heft to the story while Clooney and leading lady Vera Farmiga do the rest with a wonderfully acted relationship between two sharks that leads Bingham to an existential epiphany.
Clooney and Farmiga aren’t the only high fliers in the cast; Anna Kendrick, a young actress best known for her role in Twilight shines as the overly meticulous IT expert who has a thing or two to learn about people.
It’s hard to believe that “Up in the Air” is only Reitman’s third film. It’s the feel bad feel good movie of the year, so self assured, so strong in style and performance that it should get much notice at awards time.