There is at least one dud a moviegoer bears witness to every
year at the Toronto International Film Festival. Not just a bad film, but one that is almost
nauseating in all of it wretchedness.
With such a vast collection of films to choose from, it’s almost
guaranteed that a handful of them will be absolutely atrocious. This year, I was lucky. Nine out of ten films met or exceeded my
expectations. The only one that didn’t
was Tony Manero.
Upon reading the premise of Tony Manero, I was immediately
sold. An obsessive admirer of John Travolta’s
performance as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, Raul Peralta will do
anything (even murder) in order to win a Chilean contest that is searching for
the most convincing Tony Manero lookalike.
With the help of his girlfriend and daughter, Raul constructs a stage
(similar to the one in Fever, complete with disco ball and bright colored
tiles) in his basement in order to achieve genuine authenticity and thus better
his performance and chances of winning.
Sounds like an offbeat story; the perfect kind to let the
characters roam free and play on the absurd story. Not having heard of the film before, I
assumed Tony Manero was a dark comedy.
How could it not be with a premise like that? The thing is, almost immediately the
filmmakers set the film up as a drama.
Not just any drama, but a historical drama (of sorts) at that. The story takes place in 1978, during Pinochet’s
dictatorship over Chile, a dark, depressing time in history that I admittedly don’t
know too much about. Regardless, as the
film began, even though it wasn’t what I thought it would be, I gave the film a
chance and allowed it to unfold before my eyes.
By the end of the film (after twenty four moviegoers walked out), I
realized how lackluster the film truly was.
If there is anything Tony Manero got right it was the
historical aspect; the physical appearance of Chile and the way in which its
inhabitants acted in times of curfew and its resultant suffering and anxiety
was interesting. While I am usually a
fan of films in which the main character is influenced by the power of cinema,
in Tony Manero, that particular sub-plot just seemed out of place. Seeing as how Raul was such an obsessive fan
of Saturday Night Fever, he would be a regular guest at the cinema and more
often than not be the only one in the theatre.
The economy of Chile at the time and the rebellious nature of Travolta’s
film struck a chord within Raul that makes winning the talent show his one true
goal. While his scenes in the theatre
were meant to be meaningful or sad, they lacked any and all emotional resonance
due to flat acting and odd pacing.
The only problem is, that is as far as Raul’s character is
developed. What’s worse, he’s such an
unlikable and incredibly cruel bastard that there is absolutely no way the
audience even cares what happens to him.
Personally, the longer he was on screen, the more I contemplated walking
out of the theatre. Raul has no
redeeming factors as a human being whatsoever, which makes his violent
outbursts all the more uninteresting, unnecessary and forced. I didn’t like the fact that the filmmakers
used the historical backdrop as an excuse for him to act they way he did. There has to be something more to him,
something personal. His desire to be the
Chilean equivalent of Tony Manero is interesting at first, but quickly
dissolves because his character is horrendously underdeveloped.
The supporting characters are no better. They share the frame with Raul so they can
simply take his verbal and physical abuse on a regular basis. They acted in an incredibly unrealistic
fashion, willingly taking Raul’s abuse without fighting back; not because they
couldn’t, but because the filmmakers were too lazy to give them any reason not
What’s worse, the lead up to the climax of the film (the big
Tony Manero competition) falls flat on its face due to faulty storytelling and
a horrible sense of pace. While the
sequence should have been tense or humorous or suspenseful or… anything, it comes
off as being boring, formulaic and anticlimactic. For a moment in which the entire film is
built upon, I cannot put into words how disappointed I was at the absolute lack
of effective storytelling.
If anything, I will commend the makers of Tony Manero for
trying to make something that, on the surface, appears to be smart, thought
provoking and different. But without a
strong story and interesting characters, an intriguing premise can only go so
4.5 out of 10