Toronto Film Festival: No Ordinary Man, Nomadland and Pieces of a Woman
This weekend I caught up one three more films at this year’s mostly digital TIFF. No Ordinary Man (A film that explores the impact and aftermath of Billy Tipton being revealed to being a trans man), Nomadland and Pieces of a Woman.
No Ordinary Man
Revered jazz musician Billy Tipton gained fame throughout the United States in the 1940s and ’50s. His trans identity was not known throughout the echelons of the jazz and pop worlds, and it wasn’t revealed publicly until after his death in 1989. For decades, Tipton was portrayed as an ambitious woman “passing” as a man in pursuit of a music career at a time when the industry was dominated by men and trans representation was virtually non-existent. Since then, he has become a foundational icon of transmasculinity.
Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt’s brilliantly crafted No Ordinary Man maps out Tipton’s undeniable legacy, while examining the disgraceful media scrutiny and questions of legitimacy his family endured after his death. This thoughtful, timely documentary embraces the challenge of bringing Tipton’s words to life, reimagining his narrative through a diverse group of contemporary trans performers as they collectively paint a portrait of an unlikely hero. Revealing their own stories of transitioning and laying bare their personal journeys, each individual reckons with their own singular path towards self-recognition, creating a unique tapestry of trans expression as we’ve never seen it before.
No Ordinary Man confronts the way the media and society approaches the existence of trans men. More specifically the erasure of trans men. The film does this through the lens of the life of Billy Tipton and how the media reacted after his trans identity was revealed after after his death in 1989. Honestly, this documentary will generate a wave of emotions. There’s the anger in how Billy Tipton and his family were treated after his death. There are clips from talk shows after Tipton’s death that are, to say the least, cringeworthy. Watching Tipton’s wife and son have to face barrages of questions steeped in transphobia is definitely tough to watch. It’s also sad to watch knowing how little has changed in society today. But Then there’s the joy that comes from seeing a group of trans men celebrate and connect with Billy Tipton’s life and journey. This documentary examines Billy's life while also holding a casting call for trans actors to play Billy in a movie about his early life and career. It really helps to draw the audience in and connect as we watch these actors reenact and draw lines to what Billy experienced to their own lives.
Also I gotta say. There was a clear choice in the actor who should play Tipton. One of the actors was head and shoulders above the others in the casting call and I will just leave it at that
Fern (Frances McDormand) drives her old RV up and down the highways of America’s West, following the seasons and seasonal jobs. When she discovers a community of like-minded nomads, her heart opens, but she’s cautious about forging bonds. One man she keeps running into (David Strathairn) looks like a perfect match, but what does Fern need with a boyfriend — or anyone, really.
I think that I was expecting something different from Nomadland. I thought this film would be more about the hardships facing the American worker particularly in the midwest. The idea that you could pour your all into your job only to have everything shut down and be left to fend for yourself is a very compelling and timely story. For the most part Nomadland explores that. But sometimes I feel like the film gets away from that. There’s a scene in particular with a discussion between Fern (McDormand) and her sister's husband about real estate that I felt could have been explored more. It seemed like every time the film was going to really "go there" it backs away. At times it feels like the film is boiling Fern’s issues down to her not being able to move on from her husbands death and no longer being able to settle down and that’s what attracts her to the nomad lifestyle. There's definitely a connection between Fern's inability to connect after her husband's death and having her entire life uprooted because the town they lived in ceased to exist after the factor shut down. Frances McDormand does a great job balancing Fern's struggles with not only survival but also her competing desires for both independence but also the feeling to belong to a community. Despite its flaws, its still a film worth checking out.
Pieces of a Woman
Martha (Vanessa Kirby) is a tightly wound executive and Shawn (Shia LaBeouf) a construction worker with a volatile past. They have found love across a class divide and are eagerly expecting their first baby. But complications with a midwife (Molly Parker) interrupt their planned home birth, sending the couple spiralling into tragedy in one shattering, bravura sequence.
What to do with their grief? At first Martha responds quietly, her body still telling her she is pregnant. Shawn looks for someone to blame for their loss, his fury ramping up alongside his helplessness. Martha’s mother (Ellenn Burstyn) introduces her own unhelpful expectations. As Martha’s attempts to cope clash with the attitudes of her community, she realizes her only means of survival is to forge her own path.
Can someone give Shia LeBeouf a hug. Seriously I need someone to check in on him and maybe give him some happier movies to do. Honestly at this point I’d even break my own rules and lower my standards and see him in another Transformer film. Anything to keep him out of these depressing ass movies. My worry about LeBeouf's mental state aside, Pieces of a Woman is a solid movie. Vanessa Kirby is fantastic as Martha in this film. Kirby puts a lot of the emotion into this film due to the subject matter of a woman who lost their child during birth. By no means isn’t this an easy watch but it’s a necessary one. This film is a sad reminder of how much society doesn’t listen to women and how women are dictated as to how they should feel. I think this is a necessary film that a lot of people need to watch.
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