May 10–12 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Since North America’s multiplexes increasingly seem to be programmed by 15-year-olds—why yes, that is Battleship opening on a million screens next week—it was only a matter of time before film festivals started reaping a comparatively adolescent perspective. Fortunately, the committee of students behind the selections at the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival has fairly precocious tastes: There are no movies based on boardgames here. Instead, Next Wave offers features and shorts from around the world, as well as the Jump Cuts showcase of handmade efforts by Ontario students in grades 9 to 12 (May 12, 3:15 p.m.).
The most impressive feature film—both in terms of its overall quality and the fact that it’s being shown in a program aimed at youth—is Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s 17 Girls (screening May 12, noon), which debuted last year in Cannes. Supposedly based on a true (American) story, the film casts a wary eye on a group of teenaged girls who decide to get pregnant en masse—high school clique-ism as an amateur biology experiment. In their directorial debut, the Coulin sisters show enough confidence to blend light comedy and beguiling lyricism. The cinematography by Jean-Louis Vialard further beautifies the phalanx of young actresses playing the pact members.
The male characters in 17 Girls are indistinct beyond their understandable enthusiasm at learning of their classmates’ gambit. By contrast, the boys in Fat Kid Rules the World (screening May 12, 8:30 p.m.) are front and centre: The first feature by Matthew Lillard is loud, fast, and gross, and even includes a projectile-vomiting homage to Stand By Me. The title character is Troy (Jacob Wysocki) a 17-year-old high school outcast eating himself into a deep depression. He’s roused from his daily stupor by Marcus (Matt O’Leary), a fellow who offers salvation in the form of a garage-rock band—a plan that doesn’t appeal to Troy’s ex-military-man dad (Billy Campbell).
With his piercing eyes and lopsided smile, O’Leary is a dead-ringer for Kurt Cobain, which seems to be the point. Fat Kid is set in Seattle, with a muscular guitar score by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, but its paeans to the punk ethos are complicated by Marcus’ relentless drug use—an addiction that parallels Troy’s eating disorder. Lillard mostly manages the balance between broad, crowd-pleasing gags and detailed character drama with aplomb, aided by his actors: Campbell’s carefully controlled performance as a crew-cut control freak trying to do well by his son is arguably career-best work.