TIFF Books on Film 2017

TIFF_BooksonFilm

Carol (2015), Credit: Courtesy of eOne Entertainment
A Room With A View (1985), Credit: Courtesy of The Film Reference Library
Queen of Katwe (2015), Credit: Courtesy of Disney

One of my absolute favourite programs in the city is TIFF’s Books on Film. I love books, my sister loves film, so this series is a perfect combination for a girls night out for both of us.

Hosted by Eleanor Wachtel, and scheduled on six Monday nights at 7 pm, Books on Film features a screening followed by a discussion about the art of adaptation and the sometimes challenging passage from page to screen. A personal highlight for me was the screening and Q&A with Mohsin Hamid about The Reluctant Fundamentalist — such a powerful, moving film!

This year’s line-up has me geeking out for all sorts of reasons!

March 13
Zadie Smith on A Room With A View

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A Room with a View (1985), Credit: Courtesy of The Film Reference Library

My Thoughts:

It’s Zadie Smith!!! I haven’t had a chance to read White Teeth yet, but I absolutely, positively adored Swing Time. As if this alone isn’t enough to get me fangirling, I also happen to be a sucker for E.M. Forster books and Merchant Ivory films. So, um, OH MY GOD!

About the Event:

Man Booker Prize nominee Zadie Smith (White Teeth) discusses James Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel about a young woman’s emancipation from the repressive cultural and sexual mores of Edwardian England.

About the Guest:

Zadie Smith is a London- and New York–based author. Her novels include White Teeth (00), The Autograph Man (02), On Beauty (05), and NW (12), and she has also written a collection of non-fiction essays called Changing My Mind (09) as well as various stories like The Embassy of Cambodia (13). Smith is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has twice been listed as one of Granta’s 20 Best Young British Novelists. Smith has won the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Guardian First Book Award among many others, and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Prize. Swing Time (16) is her latest novel.

About the Film:

A Room With A View
dir. James Ivory | UK | 1985 | 117 min. | PG | Digital
Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis star in this adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel about a headstrong young Englishwoman who discovers love and liberation while on an Italian vacation. (Trailer)

March 27
Sarah Polley on Away From Her

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Away from Her (2006), Source: TIFF.net

My Thoughts:

I’ve heard great things about this movie and Sarah Polley’s work in general, and of course, I love Alice Munro’s writing. This film sounds like it’ll be a very moving, emotional viewing experience.

About the Event:

Academy Award nominee Sarah Polley revisits her celebrated adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story “A Bear Came Over a Mountain,” starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent.

About the Guest:

Sarah Polley was born in Toronto. She has appeared in films by such directors as Isabel Coixet, David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Terry Gilliam, Hal Hartley, Wim Wenders and Michael Winterbottom. Her feature films as director are Away From Her which received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Take This Waltz. Stories We Tell is her first documentary.

About the Film:

Away from Her
dir. Sarah Polley | Canada/UK/USA | 2006 | 110 min. | PG | 35mm
An elderly married couple (Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie) face the toughest test of their decades-long relationship when one of them is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, in Sarah Polley’s moving directorial debut. (Trailer)

April 17
David Lipsky on The End of the Tour

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The End of the Tour (2015), Source: TIFF.net

My Thoughts:

I once had a co-worker who absolutely loved David Foster Wallace. I tried reading Infinite Jest several times, but just couldn’t get into it. That being said, I like Jessie Eisenberg and Jason Segel, and think this could be a good film.

About the Event:

Award-winning author and journalist David Lipsky reflects on the 1996 final interviews with eminent American writer David Foster Wallace, the evolutionary literary adaptation Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, and 2015 feature film The End of the Tour.

About the Guest:

David Lipsky’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Magazine Writing, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He contributes as an essayist to NPR’s All Things Considered and is the recipient of a Lambert Fellowship, a Media Award from GLAAD, and a National Magazine Award. He’s the author of the novel The Art Fair; a collection of stories, Three Thousand Dollars; and the bestselling nonfiction book Absolutely American, which was a Time magazine Best Book of the Year.

About the Film:

The End of the Tour
dir. James Ponsoldt | USA | 2015 | 106 min. | 14A | Digital
This illuminating road film depicts the true and complex story of Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and enigmatic American writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) who embark on a tour to promote Wallace’s groundbreaking novel Infinite Jest. (Trailer)

May 8
Phyllis Nagy on Carol

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Carol (2015), Credit: Courtesy of eOne Entertainment

My Thoughts:

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara! I meant to watch Carol when it was first released, and I’ve also been meaning to borrow The Price of Salt from the library. I haven’t gotten around to doing either yet, so this event seems like just the push I needed, as well as a great opportunity to meet the director.

About the Event:

Renowned playwright and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Phyllis Nagy recounts her two-decade journey bringing Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt to the screen.

About the Guest:

Phyllis Nagy is an award-winning director and screenwriter. She wrote and directed the television movie Mrs. Harris (05), which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, received several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, and won a PEN Literary Award for the script as well as a Gracie Allen Award for her direction. Nagy has won New York and Seattle Film Critics Circle awards and also received Academy Award, BAFTA, and WGA screenplay nominations for Carol (15).

About the Film:

Carol
dir. Todd Haynes | UK/USA/Australia | 2015 | 118 min. | 14A | Digital
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara star in Todd Haynes’ tender adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, about a forbidden relationship between a young set designer and an older suburban housewife in early-1950s New York City. (Trailer)

June 5
Mira Nair on Queen of Katwe

QueenOfKatwe_01

Queen of Katwe (2015), Credit: Courtesy of Disney

My Thoughts:

I watched this movie with my sister and we both absolutely loved it! It stars David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, who are both amazing actors, and it’s about chess, which is nerdily awesome. I especially loved the end credits, where we got to see the real people beside the actors who played them. It’ll also be great to hear Mira Nair’s thoughts on the film, particularly since she also happens to be the director of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which I also watched at TIFF and loved.

About the Event:

Following a screening of her new biographical drama about child chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, award-winning director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) discusses her personal connection with this twist on the classic “hero’s journey” narrative set in her adopted home of Kampala, Uganda.

About the Guest:

Mira Nair was born in Rourkela, India. She studied at Delhi University and Harvard University. Her films include Salaam Bombay! (88), which was nominated for an Oscar, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (96), Monsoon Wedding (01), The Namesake (06), and The Reluctant Fundamentalist(12), all of which screened at the Festival. Queen of Katwe (16) is her latest film.

About the Film:

Queen of Katwe
dir. Mira Nair | Uganda / South Africa | 2015 | 124 min. | PG | Digital
David Oyelowo (Selma) and Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) star in the true story of a young girl from rural Uganda (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga) who discovers a passion for chess, and sets out to pursue her dream of becoming an international champion. (Trailer)

June 19
Colm Tóibín on Brooklyn

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Brooklyn (2014), Source: TIFF.net

My Thoughts:

My sister watched this movie when it first came out, read the book immediately afterwards, and absolutely loved both. She says that Saoirse Ronan’s performance in the film is amazing, and has been trying to convince me to borrow her DVD so I can watch it for myself. Knowing how much of a bookworm I am, she’s also tried to lend me her copy of the book in case that’s what would work in hooking me on the story. I haven’t quite gotten around to either yet, which has nothing to do with the movie or book themselves, but rather just laziness on my part. But I’ll definitely be giving my sister a heads up about this event as I think she’d love the chance to hear the author’s perspective on the story.

About the Event:

Man Booker prize nominee Colm Tóibín (The Master, Nora Webster) recounts the experience of witnessing his much-loved novel Brooklyn adapted for the screen by fellow author Nick Hornby, which resulted in one of the biggest art-house hits of 2015.

About the Guest:

Colm Tóibín is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning author. His novels include The Master — winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Le prix du meilleur livre étranger, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction — and Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Novel Award. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.

About the Film:

Brooklyn
dir. John Crowley | United Kingdom / Ireland / Canada | 2014 | 105 min. |PG|Digital
In the early 1950s, a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) crosses the Atlantic to begin a new life in America, in this exquisitely crafted adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Colm Tóibín. (Trailer)

 

Review | The Education of Margot Sanchez, Lilliam Rivera

26594801The Education of Margot Sanchez is about a teenage girl from the Bronx who needs to work at her father’s grocery store for a summer after being caught stealing his credit card for clothes. This sucks for Margot since all she wants is to fit in with the rich and popular girls at the private school she attends, and to hang out with them at their cottage for the summer. She would also much rather be flirting with a handsome and popular jock from her school, but instead finds herself strangely attracted to Moises, an activist boy from her neighbourhood who is advocating against the development of nearby apartment buildings.

The book didn’t quite grab me like I’d hoped it would, but I like how realistic the story felt. Racism isn’t explicitly discussed, but it’s hinted at in the various aspects of her appearance and her life that Margot feels she has to tone down or outright reject in order to fit in with the popular crowd. I thought that was very well done, and I can imagine this aspect of the book striking a chord with teen readers. Margot’s fretting over her image was annoying at times, and to be honest, I often thought she was a spoiled brat, but I also have to admit that her character also felt real. I can certainly imagine a teenage girl, surrounded by much wealthier classmates, wanting to pretend to be as wealthy as they are, and that a family grocery store, despite the hard work put into it, just doesn’t quite fit that image.

I also like the bits of drama around Margot’s family. I love the character of the mother, and wish we got to know more of her story. I especially love the scene where she told Margot of her decision to get married; it isn’t the most romantic story, but it’s probably the reality for some women. Junior was mostly a nuisance at first, but I like how his story developed and especially like the part where he gives Margot a gift and boasts that he’s a better adult than their parents. That bravado and desire to prove oneself, regardless of the cost, may end up being destructive, but it’s an understandable impulse, and true to this character.

The romance subplot fell flat for me, and though the book is clearly not about romance, Moises’ character still played a pretty big role and I had expected more. Similar to Margot’s childhood best friend and even the popular kids at Margot’s private school, Moises felt more like a symbol than an actual character. Margot’s choice between Moises and the kids at school is clearly a choice between her true self and the image she’s cultivated, and most of the secondary characters felt fairly one-dimensional.

The Education of Margot Sanchez is a realistic depiction of a Puerto Rican teen coming to terms with her family and her neighbourhood. I think it’ll strike a chord for many teen readers.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

The FOLD #DiverseBooks Reading Challenge 2017, Part II

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If you follow the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) on Twitter, you’ll see that things are beginning to ramp up for the festival in May. They’ve been posting daily reveals of festival authors, and so far, it’s a pretty exciting lineup. I’m personally really excited to see Jen Sookfong Lee, because I’ve been meaning to read her book The Conjoined for months.

And while we wait for the festival, there’s always The FOLD Reading Challenge to keep us busy. I’ve previously written about category #s 2 and 17, and have a few more books to add to the list.

#16. The One Book One Brampton Title

Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor

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This is a well-deserved honour, and anyone joining in the One Book One Brampton fun will have an absolute treat on their hands. I’ve long been a fan of Farzana Doctor’s work, and Six Metres of Pavement was the reason I fell in love with her writing in the first place. The title refers to the distance between Ismail and his neighbour Celia with whom he is falling in love. Both are middle aged and dealing with personal tragedies (Ismail guilty over his daughter’s death years ago, Celia learning to live alone after the loss of her husband), and their romance is slow to simmer. A third character, Fatima, a queer activist the same age as Ismail’s daughter would have been had she lived, is a fantastic foil to the more cautious Ismail and provides the beautiful possibility for a family.

It’s been almost four years since I’ve read this novel and I still remember how much I loved reading it. Check out my original blog post about this book, and take 2013 me’s advice to listen to the author read from the book in person.

If you’ve read Six Metres and are looking for more Farzana Doctor — All Inclusive is a powerful story of family, love and finding oneself, from the experiences of a young woman working at an all-inclusive resort; and Stealing Nasreen is about a husband and wife who both develop a fascination for the same woman.

#11. Book featuring a character of any faith

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi, with graphics by Craig Phillips

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What an amazing sucker punch of a book! In this intense, gripping, metaphorical immersion into the nature of grief, a teenage girl’s desire to save her twin brother from crossing completely over into the afterlife weaves comic book characters and Hindu myth into a fevered dream state that spills over into her real life, with only the twins’ best friend to stem the flow.

When a man with a gun kills her twin brother Corey and puts her in a coma, Holly dreams she is in the Shadow Lands trying to save Corey from a half-man half-snake named Kortha. When she awakes, she imagines herself as her favourite superhero the Leopardess, out to bring Corey’s killer to justice. She also can’t stop thinking of Corey in the Shadow Lands and begins to convince herself that her and Corey’s best friend Savitri has powers similar to her mythological namesake, and can become the key to saving Corey. I love how real it feels that in her absolute grief, Holly takes elements of a superhero she admires and Hindu myths she’s learned from Savitri, and comes up with her own version of reality to help her deal when actual reality becomes too much to handle.

In the meantime, Savitri sees how her best friend is losing her grip on reality, and is torn between the desire to be a good friend and the need to protect herself and the future she’s worked for. I also love how real this dilemma feels. We know how much Savitri was looking forward to studying at an Ivy League school, so we know how big a sacrifice it is for her to even consider giving that up so she can stay with Holly, who needs her. We also see how Holly’s psychological state has the potential to lead both girls into a dangerous situation, and realize how high the stakes can become.

The story is told with a combination of text and graphic novel panels, and it’s a stunning work of art. It’s such a powerful, moving glimpse into a depth of grief I don’t even want to imagine, and so masterfully told.

Review | Crosstalk, Connie Willis

25430248In our hyper-connected world, where our deepest, darkest feelings are a tweet away, what’s the next step in deepening our connection to people we love? In CrosstalkConnie Willis imagines something called an EED (“Empathy Enhancing Device”?), a surgical procedure that enhances your empathic link to your partner. When Briddey Flannigan’s partner Trent suggests they undergo the procedure so that she may feel the depth of his love when he proposes, she sees it mostly as a minor hurdle that she’ll need to hide from her nosy and intrusive family. Unfortunately, the side effect is much worse than even her family imagines. Rather than connecting emotionally to Trent, Briddey seems to have developed a telepathic link to C.B. Schwartz, a nerdy and reclusive co-worker who stays mostly in his basement office and away from other people. Not only can they sense each other’s emotions, they can also hear each other’s thoughts, and Briddey worries about what this may do to her and Trent’s relationship.

Willis does a great job of setting up a world that’s basically like a jacked up version of ours. I’m on social media often and have a bad habit of checking and answering emails on my mobile during my lunch break, but even I was overwhelmed by the hyper-connectivity of Briddey’s world. She seems to get thousands of text messages, calls, emails and social media alerts every minute, and her family members panic if she doesn’t respond to their (non-emergency) crises immediately. Briddey, Trent and C.B. all work for a technology company racing against the clock to develop something that will rival the next generation iPhone. Tech giants trying to find a way to increase communication, while all too easy to imagine in the real world, seemed a nightmare scenario in Crosstalk. The first few chapters of this book felt almost claustrophobic with the incessant barrage of electronic chatter, and I almost wanted to run to C.B.’s basement office myself, since it apparently is impossible to get a signal there.

Given this kind of world, the EED does seem like a logical next step for romantic partners, and I laughed at Willis’ recounting of how various celebrity couples responded to the procedure. It’s not necessarily something I’d do myself, but it seems almost tame compared to the telepathy that Briddey ends up having. Telepathy can seem like an awesome superpower, but only if you can choose when to tune in. Willis does a great job in showing how nightmarish it can be to hear someone’s unfiltered thoughts, and I loved the part where Briddey trains herself to control her telepathy by imagining a radio where she can switch between stations.

The story flags in its pacing, particularly in the first half of the book. Despite conversations flying at the speed of thought, the book felt repetitive at times, and I was really frustrated by Briddey’s unwillingness to act. For example, she hesitates from telling her doctor or Trent about what went wrong, instead pretending that the surgery had no effect on her. C.B. is even more annoying; every time Briddey considered telling the truth, he’d intrude on her thoughts and scare her out of it. There was a point where if C.B. had turned out to be an evil mastermind stalker who sabotaged Briddey’s surgery, I wouldn’t have been surprised; he was that intrusive and controlling. Worse, at least from a storytelling standpoint, he was also a one-note messenger, which just really boring after a while, and I wanted Briddey to just blurt out the secret despite him. Trent was no better. He was so distressed about the EED not working, and refusing to propose marriage until it did, that I began to wonder if he even loved her, and I also wondered why Briddey hasn’t just dumped him already. All of this annoying behaviour does make more sense as the story goes on, but you have to get to the 30% or so mark before something finally happens to move things along.

The final 70% of the book is a lot more fast-paced and entertaining. It veers away somewhat from the satirical edge of the first third of the book, and its science seems a bit more tenuous, but it makes up for this in sheer entertainment value. Relationships slowly but surely show some development, and some minor characters turn out to have much larger significance. Despite some slow and annoying parts, Crosstalk is a fun read overall, and a rather dire look at where too much connectivity can get us.

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Winter of the Gods, Jordanna Max Brodsky

29569660Winter of the Gods picks up shortly after The Immortals leaves off. Selene DiSilva is still a PI in New York City, dating Theo Schultz and protecting the women of New York from abusive men. The Immortals somewhat touched on the decline of the gods as they become increasingly irrelevant to humans; Winter of the Gods takes this a step further and introduces a set of new villains who are actively hunting down the gods and killing them in a seemingly ritualistic manner.

I really enjoyed The Immortals and this sequel is a fantastic follow up that ratchets up the stakes and delves even deeper into the humanity of the gods. Paul (Apollo) in particular became even more fleshed out in this story, as a famous musician haunted by visions of his violent past, and I love how his and Selene’s bond as twins is proven much stronger than their centuries-old estrangement. Selene and the other gods as well in this story face the various atrocities they’ve committed in the past, and I can only imagine how gut wrenching that experience must be, to be faced with the potential loss of one’s immortality and have to deal with centuries of guilty.

Theo and his human friends played a major role in solving this mystery, though admittedly their story pales in comparison to the gods’. The rituals of this cult don’t quite correspond to the Greek and Roman traditions Theo is familiar with, so he has to go a bit beyond his comfort zone and consult some friends to help Selene figure out what’s happening. He’s also clearly in love with her, and (thankfully) understanding of her reluctance to commit to long term relationship. I like how their relationship develops throughout the story, and how they eventually realize how much they mean to each other.

Whereas The Immortals was pure geeky fun, Winter of the Gods is more existential angst. It’s just as exciting a read as The Immortals was, but it’s also a much more emotional one. The ending reminds me how The Empire Strikes Back ended — there’s some happiness and hope, but it’s overcast with everything that’s happened before. I’m invested in this series now, and look forward to seeing how it turns out in the next book.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(As an aside, isn’t that cover beautiful? Kudos to designer Kirk Benshoff.)

BLOG TOUR: Review | Kill the Father, Sandrone Dazieri

32744042I had just finished the BBC series Luther on Netflix and was very much in the mood for another psychological thriller with a broody and troubled detective, so Sandrone Dazieri’s Kill the Father came at a perfect time. A murder scene with a missing child is potentially the work of The Father, a serial killer who kidnapped and psychologically tortured young boys before killing them. He hadn’t been active for a while, but this crime could signal his return.

A police chief enlists the help of two individuals: Dante Torre, a recluse who had been held captive by The Father as a child and managed to escape, and Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli, a “warrior-like” detective on administrative leave after a police operation she was partly responsible for goes very badly.

Kill the Father is a doorstop of a novel at almost 500 pages, but it doesn’t feel all that long because the story does a great job of propelling you along. The mystery is compelling — the more we learn of what Dante experienced while he was The Father’s captive, the more we want The Father or whomever the kidnapper is in the present-day case, to be brought to justice. Dazieri paints a harrowing picture of what it’s like to be kept captive, without too much detail, and while we never delve deep enough into the characters’ psyches to feel claustrophobic ourselves, we certainly get enough of a picture to sympathize with the victims. A scene where a boy is seen on videotape wiping himself down with a washcloth is particularly heartbreaking when we learn that his movements follow a precise pattern set by his captor.

Dazieri does a great job of making Dante and Colomba’s realities real for us, so that we see Dante’s captivity as a child and Colomba’s experience at work affect them even months or years after. For example, Dante was kept in a silo for about ten years and so is very claustrophic. When he follows Colomba and other police officers down the stairs of his apartment building, it takes him about 45 minutes to reach the first floor, because of how being in a stairwell affects him. Colomba as well has PTSD, and their dynamic as a team is interesting, as they’re both very good at their jobs, but also very vulnerable, and they take turns propping each other up as needed.

The big reveal turns out to be bigger and darker than Dante and Colomba originally thought, and while part of me appreciates Dazieri upping the ante, this reveal also made the story feel more impersonal to me, and detached me somewhat from the experience. Still, overall Kill the Father was a compelling thriller with strong characters, and I look forward to reading future books in this series.

Author Q&A

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Photo by Moris Puccio. Source: simonandschuster.ca

1.       How’d you come up with the idea for this novel? 

One day, walking through the fields around my home town, Cremona (in the north of Italy and famous for violins and nougat) I saw a silo that stood in the middle of nowhere. I thought that whatever happened there, no one would ever know. For example, someone could have been a prisoner in that silo … In that moment the character of Dante Torre was born. 

2.       Both Dante and Colomba have incredibly scarred psyches due to past experiences. What research did you do, if any, in creating these aspects of their characters? 

I am interested in psychological and neurological diseases and I read a lot about that. All my characters  (even in previous novels) are tormented and wounded. I’m fascinated by the different views of the world that other people can judge as “crazy”. Probably because I’m not “neurotypical” too. 

3.       Where do you see the series going next? Will the mysteries be as intensely personal to one or both of the lead characters as this one was?

The second novel of the series (The Angel, published in Italy two months ago)  revolves around an ISIS massacre in Rome. Meanwhile we learn something about Dante’s family. The third and final chapter, that I’m writing now (Brothers), it’s about Dante’s past and a serial killer that is connected to him.

4.       You write both novels and screenplays. Would you be interested in writing the screenplay for Kill the Father if it’s adapted for screen? 

I’d like to be the supervisor of the project and not to write it. It’s very difficult to adapt your novel for another media. It’s easier with the someone else job… 

5.       What was the most recent book you’ve read and absolutely loved? 

Fireman, by Joe Hill.

Book Trailer

Blog Tour Schedule

Check out the other bloggers on the tour!

blogtour_killthefather

Twitter Chat

Mark your calendars! @SimonSchusterCA and @Kobo are hosting a Twitter chat with author @SandroneDazieri on February 22 at 10 am ET. Join in with hashtag #DarkSideReadsChat!

twitterchat_killthefather

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Theatre Review | Kim’s Convenience, Soulpepper

 

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Jean Yoon & Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann (2012 production), source: soulpepper.ca

I’m beyond thrilled that Soulpepper has brought Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience back to the stage. I’ve long regretted missing it on its first run, and I’ve been a fan of the CBC show since I first binge watched the first three or four episodes in one night. I love the TV show mostly for the fantastic on-screen chemistry of its cast, but also for the space it gives to develop the characters’ story arcs and relationships beyond the family, and I wondered how the stage version would compare.

Kim’s Convenience on stage is like an espresso shot to the TV version’s latte. It’s brief, it’s intense, and it manages to convey an incredibly rich story in just 90 minutes. While the TV show takes its time in teasing out the various threads in the characters’ stories, the play hurtles through its stories within a single day, building upon its momentum as it goes. Both versions are unique but equally strong, and it’s well worth checking them both out.

I love the brisk pace of the play. TV viewers will recognize some of the jokes from the first couple of episodes, and if anything, the rapid-fire pace made me appreciate the writing a bit more. Whereas I felt the writing on the TV show took a few episodes to find its rhythm, the play knocked joke after joke out of the park. Like the TV show, the play was incredibly adept at flipping its audience from uproarious laughter to silent tears, and it was great seeing an entire theatre feel as strongly about the scenes as I did.

I’ve always loved the acting in Kim’s Convenience. In fact, it is the sheer talent and charisma of Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Appa) and Jean Yoon (Umma) that hooked me on the show in the first place, and I was totally fan-girling over the chance to see them in person. It’s a testament to their talent that they are equally strong on stage and on screen, and I’m so glad they reprised their roles in the play.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee has created such a rich, loveable, iconic character in Appa. Even when he does or says something inappropriate and you sympathize with his daughter Janet’s frustration, you can’t help but continue loving the character anyway. We learn a bit more of Appa’s backstory here than has been revealed yet in the TV show. It’s a story that adds context to his protectiveness over the store and that I think will resonate with many immigrant families.

Lee has some of the most hilarious scenes in the play, and also the most emotional. There are two points where he talks about his life, “the story of Mr. Kim,” and while these snippets of dialogue are brief, they are also some of the most heart-wrenching. And a scene where he and Janet fight about her career goals (which don’t include taking over the store) just about broke my heart.

Jean Yoon as Umma has the most heartbreaking smile. Her pain over the tensions between her husband and their children is evident even as she cheerfully moves around the store. A lot of her dialogue is in Korean, and because I didn’t understand the words, I love how much she is able to convey with her facial expressions and tone. She reminded me a bit of my mom, and I’m not completely sure why. Possibly it’s Umma’s desire for harmony in the family, and her preference to hide frustrations with a smile rather than confront tension head on.

Yoon and Richard Lee (Jung) also have strong, beautiful singing voices. The scene where Umma sings and Jung joins in is such a beautiful, magical moment. Of all the strong scenes in this play, this scene was the one that made me feel the silence from the audience. I may have held my breath at one point, so immersed I was in the moment, and at the end of the song, all I could think was wow. Yoon sang on the TV show as well, but there’s something about the acoustics of the space and the intimacy of the setting that made her voice seem so much richer in person.

Richard Lee as Jung and Rosie Simon as Janet are also really strong. I loved the restraint with which Simon played the confrontation scenes, and the subtle shifts of expression on Lee’s face in the climactic final scene. While I love the TV versions of the characters as well, I’m glad they’re a bit older in the play. I can actually imagine the TV versions growing up into the stage versions — Janet becoming more confident in her photography and more tempered in her frustration over her parents, and Jung becoming less certain about his choices and more aware of his desire to return home. The TV fan in me hopes that the play doesn’t necessarily predict the future of the TV versions, as Jung on stage has some marital issues and I’m still pulling for TV Jung to find his happily ever after with Shannon.

Finally, all kudos to Ronnie Rowe Jr, who performed all the other roles in the play. It was pretty amazing to see him return to the stage in a different outfit and be such a distinctively different person. Whether it’s a new accent or a different demeanour, he manages to make each new character distinct. He also had the most hapkido encounters with Appa, which was a comedic highlight and a running gag with the perfect punchline.

If there’s one criticism I’d make about the play, it’s that I wanted it to be longer. I was just getting excited about the second act (I hadn’t realized there was no intermission) when the resolution happened, and I was left wanting more. Fortunately for anyone who feels the same way, the TV show’s first season is still available online. I had hoped that the play would tide me over until the show returns in the fall, but instead it just made me more impatient for new episodes.

Kim’s Convenience is fantastic, both on stage and on screen, and I’m so glad I got to see both. If you’re a fan of either play or show, definitely check out the other version, as they complement each other very well. And if you haven’t seen either yet, definitely check out the play, and I guarantee you’ll be binge-watching the TV show immediately after.

Kim’s Convenience is on stage at the Young Centre for Performing Arts in Toronto from February 8 – March 4. Buy tickets here. It’s also a touring production — it was in Neptune Theatre, Halifax before hitting Toronto and it’ll be in New York this July.

#okseeyou at the theatre, and thanks to Soulpepper for bringing this masterpiece back to the stage!