TIFF 2021 Reviews: Drama Films Round-Up

TIFF 2021 reviews: The Good House Maya Forbes (Director and Writer), Wallace Wolodarsky (Director and Writer), Thomas Bezucha (Writer), Andrei Bowden Schwartz (Cinematography), Catherine Haight (Editor) Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin (Cast) Based on The Good House by Ann Leary September 15, 2021 Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

There were a host of dramatic films at TIFF 2021. While many of the films tugged at our heartstrings, some didn’t quite hit the mark. We review a selection of international dramas from the festival.


Rich Williamson (director, cinematographer, editor), Shasha Nakhai (director), Catherine Hernandez (writer)
Liam Diaz, Essence Fox, Anna Claire Beitel, Felix Jedi Ingram Isaac, Ellie Posadas, Cherish Violet Blood, Conor Casey, Aliya Kanani (cast)
Based on Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez
September 11, 2021 (TIFF)

Three children from three very different families are brought together by a community centre. Their friendship will change their lives forever.

A stunning directorial debut from Rich Williamson and Shasha Nakhai, Scarborough paints a rather scathing portrayal of how low-income households are treated by society, and the resulting fallout on children. This is a moving film, full of joy at times but equally painful to watch at others. A tearjerker that will still fill you with hope.

The Story of My Wife

Ildikó Enyedi (director and writer), Marcell Rév (cinematographer), Károly Szalai (editor)
Léa Seydoux, Louis Garrel, Gijs Naber (cast)
Based on The Story of My Wife by Milán Füst
September 10, 2021 (TIFF)

A sea captain decides to marry the first woman he sees when at shore. She unexpectedly agrees and the two fall in love. But the captain soon realises that distance doesn’t make the heart grow fonder.

This a beautiful film — almost every shot looks like a Van Gogh painting. But the story didn’t work for me. The central romance, if one can call it that, is overwrought. Lack of communication as a plot point is always frustrating, and it’s practically the driving force here. And the Manic Pixie Dream Girl/ Femme Fatale trope was off-putting. One to miss.

Dug Dug

Ritwik Pareek (director and writer), Aditya S Kumar (cinematographer), Bijith Bala (editor)
Altaf Khan, Gaurav Soni, Yogendra Singh, Durgalal Saini (cast)
September 11, 2021 (TIFF)

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I began watching Dug Dug, but the premise was enough to intrigue me. A man is killed on his Dug Dug motorbike. The bike is locked away by the police but finds its way back to the crime scene. The mysterious reappearance confounds the police and the people of the small town, thereby sparking a new cult that worships the dead man.

This film is colorful and bonkers. The denouement is fantastic, as is the final scene. Despite the sparse dialogue, Dug Dug says a lot about the religious fervour that still engulfs many parts of India, reveling in its satirical look at blind faith. Though lighthearted and enjoyable, one might need some knowledge of the secular rights of India to understand the premise for the joke that it is.


Terence Davies (director and writer), Nicola Daley (cinematographer), Alex Mackie (editor)
Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Gemma Jones, Ben Daniels, Kate Phillips, Simon Russell Beale, Jeremy Irvine, Geraldine James (cast)
September 12, 2021 (TIFF)

Benediction details the life of English poet Siegfried Sassoon, from his time being a conscientious objector to World War I to later in his life.

I’ve enjoyed Terrence Davies’ earlier films, The Deep Blue Sea and A Quiet Passion, but this film didn’t work for me. I understand that it was shot during the pandemic and that impacted the production’s quality. There were far too many edits and transitions which made it difficult to situate oneself within the story. The acting was overwrought and ham-fisted. At one point, I had to turn the volume down from all the shouting.

Biopics are difficult to make — after all, how do you fit a person’s entire life into two hours? But Benediction tries to do too much and ultimately fails to give us a complete picture of Sassoon, the person.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Will Sharpe (director and writer), Erik Alexander Wilson (cinematographer), Selina Macarthur (editor)
Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones (cast)
September 12, 2021 (TIFF)

This film is based on the true story of Louis Wain, who popularised the concept of adopting cats as pets through his beautiful art.

An extremely quirky film at times, the hammy performances were so over-the-top that they made me uncomfortable. This isn’t Benedict Cumberbatch’s best work, though he tries his best. Andrea Riseborough has so little to work with, it’s frustrating to see her in this role. But, there are adorable cats partway through the film, which kept my interest. I’d say you could give this one a miss.


The Wheel

Steve Pink (director), Trent Atkinson (writer), Bella Gonzales (cinematographer), Neal Wynne (editor)
Amber Midthunder, Taylor Gray, Bethany Anne Lind, Nelson Lee (cast)
September 12, 2021 (TIFF)

A young couple head to an isolated cabin in the hopes of fixing their dissolving marriage. But that’s not the goal for both participants.

This was a difficult film to get into but is redeemed by an excellent final sequence. Initially, the characters felt very one-dimensional: there’s the broken girl, the good guy, and the older couple who see themselves in the younger pair. But the pacing and some unexpected beats kept me on the edge of my seat. And that ending! Brilliantly shot and acted; any doubts I had about the film went out the window.

Costa Brava, Lebanon

Mounia Akl (director and writer), Clara Roquet (writer), Joe Saade (cinematographer), Cyril Aris (editor), Carlos Marques Marcet (editor)
Nadine Labaki, Saleh Bakri, Nadia Charbel, Ceana and Geana Restom, Yumna Marwan, Liliane Chacar Khoury, François Nour (cast)
September 12, 2021 (TIFF)

In Costa Brava in the near future, the Badri family have chosen to hide away in one of the last idyllic spots in Beirut. But their peaceful, verdant life is uprooted when the president’s men arrive under false pretenses.

Costa Brava, Lebanon is an aggravating film, both diegetically and thematically. The situation the Badris find themselves in is beyond their control, but it also seems like they’re not trying hard enough to help each other through it. While the theme of pollution, landfills, and the rampant corruption in Lebanon that has destabilized the country are all relevant and hard-hitting, I was left wondering what the film’s eventual message was.

This is a compelling family drama, but the film needed a deeper examination of the greater political message that the director hinted at in her introduction.

True Things

Harry Wootliff (director and writer), Molly Davies (writer), Ashley Connor (cinematographer), Tim Fulford (editor)
Ruth Wilson, Tom Burke, Hayley Squires (cast)
Based on True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies
September 14, 2021 (TIFF)

A woman bored with her life becomes infatuated with a man she meets at her workplace. But it seems like she’s the only participant in this relationship.

In her introduction for the film, writer/director Harry Wootliff spoke of writing about the kind of “bad boy” a lot of women encounter. While the love interest certainly falls into that category, I don’t really see how this film does anything different with the concept. The protagonist is taken in by this enigmatic man, but why? He simultaneously “lovebombs” her and ghosts her. She gets so little out of the relationship that I couldn’t understand her motivation for returning to him.

I feel like this is a story we’ve seen a million times with the exact same characters. There were no new elements here to make me excited about it. I really thought we’d get something unique, but it was predictable from beginning to end.

The Good House

Maya Forbes (director and writer), Wallace Wolodarsky (director and writer), Thomas Bezucha (writer), Andrei Bowden Schwartz (cinematographer), Catherine Haight (editor)
Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin (cast)
Based on The Good House by Ann Leary
September 15, 2021 (TIFF)

In The Good House, protagonist Hildy needs “a good year.” By this, she means some big realty sales in her small town. But Hildy faces hurdles throughout the film. Her kids leach off her; her former partner stole her clients; and she has an addiction that she refuses to acknowledge.

Based on the Ann Leary novel of the same name, this film feels familiar in many ways. It takes places in a quaint small town, and has a primarily white cast and stereotypically recognizable characters. But somehow The Good House doesn’t feel tired, and it’s all down to Sigourney Weaver’s winning performance. She is charming in every frame. Despite her fourth-wall breaking dialogue, Weaver embodies this character from start to finish. It’s not often that we have a female protagonist who is in her sixties, brilliantly put-together, successful but struggling and complex. Had it not been for the boring romantic subplot with Kevin Kline’s Frank, this film would have been quite revelatory.

Where the film fails is its inability to address the root of Hildy’s addiction. The audience is meant to sympathise with Hildy, but the characters around her don’t. I don’t think The Good House is particularly memorable, but it’s a joy to spend nearly two hours getting to know Weaver’s Hildy.

Louis Skye

Louis Skye

A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books, or video games. E always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media. Louis' podcast, Stereo Geeks, is available on all major platforms. Pronouns: E/ Er/ Eir

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