TIFF Opening Night: Long Border Lines, But Less Fest Crowds Make For Moving ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ World Premiere

For anyone who has visited Tel Aviv, Israel, they know when it’s time to head back to the states, it’s about a 3 hour wait in line at the airport due to security clearances.

Well, for those traveling to Canada for TIFF during the pandemic, brace yourself, because you’re going to wait just as long.

Seriously, the lines weren’t that long at TIFF this year.
AP

On Wednesday, flights coming into Toronto from both NYC and LA were delayed by four hours, creating suspense for anyone who had taken a Covid test before Labor Day that Canadian border patrol wouldn’t grant them entry because their PCRs were slightly older than 72 hours. The 9:30AM flight out of LA, which was pushed to 12 noon landed at 7:30PM Toronto time, creating a 90 minute wait at customs; even actress-filmmaker Justine Bateman, who had Violet at TIFF, was weathering the long wait. Per Air Canada, those returning to the states need to get to Pearson International three hours before their flight.

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Toronto Review: Opening-Night Film ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

However, after clearing the Canadian border, all of the masses you were swimming against at the airport evaporate once you’re on King Street, TIFF’s stomping ground; making for a very quiet festival. That is from a U.S. citizen’s P.O.V. having not been here last year, when the event was confined to Canadians and online.

The Toronto streets, which are typically filled with screaming fans and cops during the evening red carpets aren’t here. There were only eight outlets allowed tonight for the red carpet of Universal’s world premiere of Dear Evan Hansen. Nor are the throngs of orange-shirted TIFF volunteers swarming in the streets, or the winding premiere lines which traditionally become entangled with premium ticketholders, the press and plebeians.

Julianne Moore and Ben Platt walk the red carpet at world premiere of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’
AP

For tonight, even with bag and vaccine card checks, one could cartwheel into the Roy Thomson Hall for Dear Evan Hansen. The 2,630 capacity theater is traditionally packed shoulder-to-shoulder for such fest premieres of yore like The Martian, Joker; heck even Universal’s underrated Tom Hardy British gangster pic Legend. 

Inside this year, you’ll find all the concession stands closed and a venue which is usually hopping, half full. Perhaps all the action was over at the RBC Lakeside Drive-In which beamed the Dear Evan Hansen premiere in for locals, judging from the photos on social media.

How empty was it at Roy Thomson Hall? At every TIFF premiere, when the piracy warning appears on screen, there’s typically a hysterical chorus of pirate-sounding “Rrrss!” from the audience. Tonight, only one person dared peep “Rrr!”

Taking the podium to the 46th edition, TIFF Executive Director and Co-Head Joana Vicente beamed, “Good evening, we’ve missed you!” to which the fest’s Artistic Director and Co-Head Cameron Bailey added, “We’re thrilled to see you, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it?”

Vicente called Dear Evan Hansen a movie for our time, which exudes “a shared humanity to one another”.

When it comes to TIFF, it’s no pebble among film festivals, rather a boulder, which sets awards season rolling; its Grolsch People’s Award for the Top Film an Oscar Best Picture bellwether. The event’s annual impact on the city is well north of $160M U.S. dollars, and no doubt its smaller footprint last year truly had to hurt.

Toronto Mayor John Tory took the mic to emphasize that, and how the city is a film and TV production mecca.

“TIFF is easy to be proud of, and easy to support because it’s so important to the city, and it is especially important in a year like this when we just went through the pandemic,” said the Mayor while also taking the time to make wisecracks much to the audience’s glee. Giving his sister Jennifer Tory, the chair of TIFF, a shoutout, he quipped, “I’m so proud of her. It seems like a long ways from the days when she use to chase me around the house with a hairbrush, accusing me of teasing her with unfounded allegations.”

Dear Evan Hansen

Cast members of the film “Dear Evan Hansen,” left to right, Julianne Moore, Ben Platt, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino and Nik Dodani.
AP

In 2019 TIFF booked 332 films. Last year there were 60 movies, and there’s an uptick this year to 132 features in a live and hybrid edition. During the first few days of the festival, it’s not uncommon to have two major studio premieres programmed against each other at roughly the same time. This year, that’s not exactly happening.

While a majority of stars are missing at this year’s fest, Uni indeed did bring the talent with Dear Evan Hansen director Stephen Chbosky, scribe Steven Levenson, stars Ben Platt, Julianne Moore, Danny Pino, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan and Nik Dodani.

Introducing the film, Chbosky spoke about how special TIFF is to him; it’s where he world premiered The Perks of Being a Wallflower and “it was a night that changed my life”. Chbosky confessed that he never got to see Platt play the character of Evan Hansen on Broadway, however, every day on set for him was like opening night.

In his intro before the film, the filmmaker exclaimed” “And so now you guys get to have the bragging rights forever that you were here, not only for opening night of Dear Evan Hansen, not only for opening night of TIFF, but as far as I’m concerned the opening night of cinema in North America” to an eruption of great cheers. In regards to the response, those who attended seemed to enjoy the movie, receiving the 2 hour and 17 minute running time title with tears and claps after musical numbers.

During the near 35-minute Q&A following the film, the cast reflected on their favorite songs from the musical, as well as their singing chops when sized up to Platt.

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“I have never done any singing in a movie before,” said Kaitlyn Dever beaming in from Italy; the actress plays Evan Hansen’s love interest, Zoe Murphy, in the film.

“Musical auditions don’t come around too often for a film and I was so overwhelmed with nervousness when I got my audition,” she added.

Amy Adams, who plays Zoe’s mother Cynthia, has starred in such movie musicals like Disney’s Enchanted, however, Dear Evan Hansen was different as Chbosky “was always encouraging intimacy and conversation.”

“I thought I’d swallow my own tongue,” joked Moore about the daunting experience of singing her character’s song “So Big/So Small” to Platt.

“I haven’t sung since Music Man in high school,” added the Oscar winning actress.

Pino confessed, “I haven’t done a lot of singing on camera, I did Godspell in high school.” However, his anxiety melted away when he finally got together to sing with Adams and Dever during a group rehearsal.

Bailey, who moderated the discussion asked Chbosky about the risk that comes when a director is trying to be sincere in an artform; this film staying very true to the nonstop raw emotion of the multi-Tony winning Broadway musical.

Universal

“I make emotional films and I’m not terribly apologetic about it,” responded Chbosky.

“I’m a dude from Pittsburgh and I wear my heart on my sleeve, and if you don’t like it, f*** off,” he told the audience, “there’s no risk in that, there’s only reward.”

And then he summed up the tone of not just the night, but a festival, and the moviegoing experience on the verge of a comeback.

“We’re sitting in this auditorium right now. That means whatever tragedy we might have experienced in our families for the last year and half; we are alive. We are here. We saw art,” said Chbosky.

“Sorry, but my Pittsburgh is showing. But, what’s the risk? You’re alive. The movie rocks. This guy’s a genius (Levenson), these people (the cast) are amazing. We’re in Toronto. There it is.”

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