REVIEW: Exclaim – NXNE Festival Review (Toronto)
Edith Welland is a struggling actress. She presents a kind face and a sweet smile to the world, but she can’t quite mask the ugly wealth of insecurity and resentment lurking just under the surface. Played as a maddening mess of contradictions in a revelatory debut performance by July Talk’s Leah Goldstein, Edith’s the fragile heart of Diamond Tongues, Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson’s trenchant satire of a Toronto arts scene that can quickly become cutthroat with the wrong perspective.
Edith’s been at it for four years now, but has little to show for her efforts aside from the unreasonably high hopes she’s pinning on her most recent role in a short film. She goes to the kind of vapid industry parties where directors suggest collaborating without having seen any of her work, and someone tries to entice her back to his place with the promise of a hot tub that will be installed soon.
So when she hears from her agent about an audition for a schlocky horror film called Blood Sausage, she reluctantly takes the opportunity. This is soon complicated by the fact that her ex-boyfriend (Adam Gurfinkel), who’s only just recently decided to take up acting on a whim, has already been cast as the male lead in the film, and she’s forced to suffer through reading the risible dialogue with him while auditioning.
The script doesn’t pretend to offer much in the way of plot, but the observant character study mines a lot of humour by skewering the different kinds of people who persevere within the Toronto entertainment industry alongside Edith. For instance, her comedian friend Nick (real-life comic Nick Flanagan, in a very funny turn) writes for the second-highest rated sitcom in Canada, Dog Husband, while her roommate Clare (Leah Wildman) is rehearsing for a pretentious play that even she admits is terrible.
Collaborating with Goldstein’s multi-talented band-mate Peter Dreimanis as cinematographer, Moondi and Robertson don’t mind taking the narrative on a few episodic detours — like the impromptu dinner for two Edith cooks without considering the fact that she has no one to share it with, or the acting coach who has ulterior motives for taking Edith under his wing — so long as they reveal something about her or the frustrating world in which she’s mired. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve enlisted Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning and Do Make Say Think’s Ohad Benchetrit to anchor a stellar homegrown soundtrack that also features a performance by the band Islands at the Horseshoe Tavern in a pivotal scene.
That the directors and Goldstein manage to make the narcissistic and self-defeating Edith somehow relatable — and at times even likeable — is a truly remarkable accomplishment, especially considering her deplorable and duplicitous actions. She procrastinates on assembling a demo reel, attempts to worm her way into one audition by posing as someone else and habitually engages in some of the most petulant and petty behaviour imaginable. Her only real pleasure (aside from an ebullient acid trip) seems to come from masturbating to a fantasy of being a guest on George Stroumboulopoulos’s talk show.
Yet, as she debates attending the premiere of a friend’s film, Edith confides in Nick, “I’m worried that it’s going to be really good,” and the dark recesses of the psyche in which she’s trapped start to become a little more identifiable. There’s small comfort to be found in the failure of others — it temporarily makes us feel a little better about our own — but it’s no way to live.
– Kevin Scott