This film will be released on November 23rd. I had the good fortune to attend a preview screening at TIFF, followed by a Q&A with Warren Beatty and Lily Collins, hosted by Toronto’s own crazy sock wearing film critic Richard Crouse. I did enjoy the film, but the Q&A was definitely the highlight. Warren Beatty was charming, funny and very generous with his time. It’s always great to see a film maker who is so enthusiastic about his or her film, perhaps because it is his first film in 18 years. Rumour has it has been 40 years in the making. It was made clear to us that it is not a Howard Hughes biopic or love letter. Warren plays Hughes, which is a fairly pivotal role in a film which centers around the relationship between an aspiring young actress Marla, played by Lily Collins and her young driver Frank, played by Alden Ehrenreich, both hired by Hughes for his movie making machine.
Just a quick bit about the plot here only to give you a sense but hopefully not enough to spoil it. Marla arrives in Hollywood with her mother, played by Annette Bening, to screen test for Howard Hughes. She’s put up in a beautiful cliff side mansion and driven about by Frank who is strictly forbidden to fraternize with the actresses. Hughes’ rules. This is where I will leave you so as not to ruin the film.
While this may not be Hughes’ biopic, it may be an allegory for Beatty’s. Quite the playboy who loved and left many women in his heyday, this could be seen as an acknowledgment and perhaps even an apology. Lily Collins looks very familiar, perhaps a bit like Natalie Wood with whom Beatty had a two year affair in the 60s.
This is the third film I’ve seen this year that takes us back in time to the earlier days of film making. La La Land and Their Finest were the other two. And last year we had Hail, Caesar! These films naturally have very wide appeal, especially for film buffs. While this might not be destined to be an Oscar classic, it’s a nice nostalgic film and the performances are solid. There are a number of great cameos throughout the film, but the film is really owned by the two young leads. We will see more great roles for both Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich. I’m sure they learned a lot from the legend himself.
During the Q&A it was shared that they took more time than is usually afforded in pre production to work through character development, that Warren will exhaust his actors and get as many takes as time allows and that the film was not derived from any particular person but imagined and perhaps influenced by memories from his subconscious. We also learned that he believes his wife Annette Bening is the greatest actress. But the most memorable moment in the Q&A was the very first question. Well it wasn’t a question exactly. As the microphone was passed to the gentleman sitting directly in front of me someone simultaneously handed Richard Crouse a business card. Then the man with the microphone spoke. He said something like “My name is Warren Beatty. I am fourth generation African Canadian. I am 65 years old, so my mother did not name me after you.” He then shared that he has benefited over the years from mistaken identity with presidential suites in hotels. Sure enough, the business card confirmed his name and Director / actor Warren thought this was terrific and said they needed to speak afterwards.
I hope this is not the last of Warren Beatty’s films. It is nice to have him back and something tells me he’s got more to give to the industry.