At the Toronto International Film Festival this week, I saw Harry Styles twice

I saw Harry Styles twice at the Toronto International Film Festival this week.

The first time was on screen in Michael Grandage’s My Policeman, a romantic drama named for Stylus’s character, Tom, a closeted police officer in 1950s Britain based on the real-life male lover of author E.M. Forster. Film Festival the other was outside the movie’s public premiere, where the singer-actor drew the second-largest outdoor crowd of the weekend after Taylor Swift. The group was loud enough to be heard from space, or at least from the top of the CN Tower.

“My Policeman” by Harry Styles Doesn’t Suck.

It’s clear that TIFF wants to reach out to a younger, more pop audience in their comeback year after Covid, and it’s also fair. I will never forget the festival press release that praised Taylor Swift as a “visual thinker” (although, to give credit where credit is due, All Too Well: The Short Film was probably the only title in the whole program to screen on 35 mm). As for Styles, his sharing of the first-ever ensemble TIFF tribute acting prize for My Policeman was a sneaky way to use a short celebration of fame against a supposed celebration of skill. One wonders if the same cover story would have been held if Don’t Worry Darling had been invited to Toronto instead.

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The question of whether Styles has been intentionally gay-baiting his audience has been asked and answered to death this fall. If the TIFF Tribute Award for Performance is a metaphor for sucking up, Styles getting beaten up in the main scene of My Policeman is likely to be a topic of conversation during the fall movie season, if nothing else. His comment that Grand Age’s film goes beyond the supposedly boring gay cinematic tradition of “two guys going at it” is already a sort of limbo-like infamy, even though both fans and critics can probably agree that it was made with good intentions. Everything about Stylus’s part in My Policeman, which is mostly about two guys fighting, smells (if not reeks) of good intentions, which is not usually a sign of a good movie, or, as our man might say, a film festival that, like, feels like a movie, a natural, like, go-to-the-theater-film movie.

My Policeman is a love triangle that spans two different times.

It cuts between the past and the present to show how attraction works and what happens. Each of the three main characters is, in their way, easy to like. Tom is a simple boy who is happy for now to be a blunt tool of the state, even though he is more excellent than his coworkers. Patrick (David Dawson), who stands in for Forster, is a literary type who uses his art to fight against his loneliness. Marion (Emma Corrine) is a thoughtful, traditional-minded schoolteacher who is intellectually in love with Patrick. Still, she loves Tom for his sweet adaptability, which is the same thing that, against his better judgment, attracts Patrick.

Patrick seduces Tom because he thinks it’s love and not just lust. Tom is willing to be seduced as long as it’s done behind closed doors. Homosexuality is not only illegal, but he has to catch “perverts” every day as part of his job. He wants to keep up appearances but has mixed feelings about it. film festival, On the other hand, Marion keeps hitting the limits of her ignorance until she finally gets around them. After many years, she (Gina McKee) and Tom (Linus Roache) are both retired but not entirely happy with each other. Patrick (Rupert Everett) looks like he’s in ruins, so Marion invites him to stay with them while he gets better. Tom doesn’t want to talk to Patrick. Patrick never says anything.

For a complicated movie like My Policeman to work, the two different periods have to look or sound different, and the actors who play the characters at the beginning and end of their lives must feel like they know each other. Grand age is not a very good director and does okay on the first point. The flashbacks have the rich, worn look of a treasured memory, while the present-day parts are effectively faded. The images are perfect for a grey seaside town where every day is like Sunday. On the other hand, Film Festival Dawson and Everett are the only actors who work well together. It’s easy (and fun) to picture the latter actor playing Patrick back when he was a dashing young man, and his quiet, still, and subtly physical work in the older version of the character shows that he has a lot of skill. But McKee’s older Marion is just a blank, which is strangely at odds with Corinne’s sneaky, edgy performance, and Roaches’ listlessness may be part of the script. Still, he never quite captures Stylus’s empty, appealingly open decency.

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At this point, prestige movies set in the past and have sad gay relationships are their subgenre, and My Policeman doesn’t add anything new to the field. Even if the sex scenes are explicit enough to challenge the older theatergoers who used to see Merchant Ivory-style plays in the the tare, they aren’t sufficient to make up for how boring the whole thing is. It’s hard to say if Stylus’s name on the poster will bring in kids. But to give credit where credit is due, he does have the best scene in the movie. Patrick asks Tom what he thinks of a J.M.W. Turner painting in his art gallery. Tom, who doesn’t put on airs (and wouldn’t know where to start if he did), looks closely at the stormy painting and seems embarrassed that he can’t say exactly how he feels, even though he knows he does. The sarcastic thing is that Styles is perfect for a character who doesn’t have control over his mind. The fair thing is that an actor eager (sometimes too keen) to say what he’s thinking has found a way to understand what it might be like to try to keep it all in.

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