August 31, 2009

The Toe Tactic

Originally reviewed on GC Daily from the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ***

The Toe Tactic Animator Emily Hubley, the daughter of renowned animators John and Faith Hubley (A Windy Day, Voyage to Next), is perhaps best known for her work on Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but she's also director of a wealth of fine animated shorts. The Toe Tactic is both her first feature and her first live action film and, as you'd expect and hope, that live action is interspersed with her wonderfully wobbly, colorful cartoons. In the post-screening Q&A, Hubley confessed that her original intent was to make an all-live action film, with one brief animated sequence, but then things took off, evolved... and now, animated dogs control the universe in playfully self-deprecating interludes that do a fine job of carrying the film forward.

The film stars lovely young actress Lily Rabe, who has a little bit of a young Laura Linney-ish vibe, and is the daughter of Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe), along with Daniel London (Old Joy), who plays the shy elevator man who finds her appealing.

The Toe Tactic is also boosted by a wonderfully eccentric, recognizable cast of indie stalwarts - including the ubiquitous Kevin Corrigan as a neighborhood piano teacher, John Sayles as Rabe's landlord, the always reliably wacky Jane Lynch (the "fuck buddy" boss in 40 Year Old Virgin and several Christopher Guest mockumentaries) as a bitter open mic night hostess and Mary Kay Place as the worrying mother - along with voices provided by comics (David Cross, for example, as one of the animated dogs) and veteran actors (Eli "Yes I'm Still Alive" Wallach, Andrea Martin, Marian Seldes). A plot involving Rabe's friendship with an eccentric and lonely woman played by Novella Nelson gets a bit muddled along the way. The multiple character framework with the gentle comedy about yearning and loss may remind you of Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know and the melancholy Australian film Look Both Ways, and while it isn't as polished as either of those films, it's charm lies in its low-key humor (the open mic night is one highlight) and sweetness.

Toe Tactic has some decidedly awkward, amateurish moments in pacing and tone, and the thin story isn't really much to hang a cartoon hat on - young woman trying to finally move past the tragic death of her father years before - but Hubley mostly resists making things too mawkish or cutesy, and the film does grow into its own as it moves along. In short, it's slight and imperfect, but so lovely and lovingly made that it's hard to pick on, too.

The appropriately moody but sweet music score is by Yo La Tengo, by the way, one of the members of which is Emily Hubley's sister Georgia.

The DVD includes three short films by Hubley.

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Posted by cphillips at August 31, 2009 8:02 PM

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