#REVIEW: “DON’T TALK TO IRENE”
By David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
When it comes to TIFF, the majority of films shown over the course of 11 days are not always the most uplifting. Outside of the Midnight Madness and Documentary programmes (and Vanguard, may it rest in peace), the main focus is on Oscar-baiting Dramas and adult fare. It is rare for actual comedies to land a spot during the Festival – and even rarer for those films to be Canadian.
Irene Willis (newcomer Michelle McLeod) is an outcast and the so-called “fattest girl in high school”. She dreams of being a cheerleader like her mother Lydia (Anastasia Phillips) and spends her nights confiding in her own personal God, Geena Davis (who speaks to Irene through the poster for A League of Their Own). With seemingly the whole school and town against her – not to mention forced community service at a local retirement home – Irene must find a way to achieve her dream.
Don’t Talk to Irene is a triumph in every sense of the word. Writer/Director Pat Mills spent eight years off-and-on trying to get the Film made, and you can tell from the opening frame just how much love went into making it. It is a coming-of-age story like so many others, but Mills peppers the Film with an honesty and biting commentary that is missing from those atypical films. It often gets its points across with vulgar hilarity, but never lets its stereotypes or archetypes get in the way of the larger story. And while the Film says a lot about teenagers and the growing pains they face in high school, it says just as much about the retired community and how wrong our expectations of them can be. The details may be surface level at best, but the laughs and heart are anything but.
Mills has assembled a great cast of Canadian talent to fill out his characters, but McLeod stands head and shoulders above everyone else. She is a powerhouse, singular minded on her goal of being a cheerleader and finding the goodness in everyone. This may be one of her first roles, but her emotional depth and comedic timing are terrific. She gives a sweet, star-making performance and I look forward to seeing her next project immediately. And while McLeod offers many of the Film’s laughs, Davis gets the best jokes consistently and delivers them with a dry wit that will keep you laughing well beyond the final credits.
And I still think it is absolutely hysterical that the picturesque town the Film takes place in, where nothing happens and its citizens can never escape from, is actually downtown Hamilton. It’s a point of pride when I see my hometown appear on Film, even if the way it is being described is less than thrilling.
Don’t Talk to Irene is the most genuinely entertaining Film I have seen all year. It does not offer anything ground-breaking or unique, but it is hysterically moving from start to finish and proudly wears its heart on its sleeve. In a year filled with darkness on and off the big screen, Irene is a breath of fresh air and the kind of crowd-pleasing Movie they just don’t make anymore. And who doesn’t want to stand up and cheer for a scrappy little Canadian Movie?
Search Engine Films release DON’T TALK TO IRENE exclusively at Cineplex Yonge-Dundas in Toronto on Friday, September 29, 2017.