Day three kicked off with an early alarm call. You see, you get to see your far-flung friends but once a year, twice if you’re lucky, so we had planned to meet up at 8am. Which if you’ve gone to bed at 2.30am is rough.
So, I scurried down to breakfast with my fellow friends and then it was off to interview Diane Warren.
Find me a person whose life has not been impacted by her songs or had at least one become a pleasant earworm. Warren was to be honored later with the Impact Award so we joked about needing extra coffee to get through the day and chatted about her work and her latest song, “I’ll Fight” and that earworm internet sensation, “Why Did You Do That?”
After our chat, my first screening on the day’s agenda was Ben Is Back. I had heard Julia Roberts was sensational in this, but I did not expect this to be a career best. This film is hers. Roberts plays the mother of a son who has been in rehab and as the title says, Ben Is Back. He comes home just in time for Christmas Eve even while the rest of the family are skeptical about his early return. Lucas Hedges gives a great performance here, but Roberts reigns supreme as the mother who wants to give her son another chance, even if it means never letting him out of her sight. I’m not a mother, but she draws you into feeling the maternal instinct, conveying all the torment yet delivering the lighter aspects of the script with perfect comedic timing, “He had a good run.” She shrugs at one point. She let us feel the absolute devastation of a mother dealing with the reality that her son could die this time, this could be it, if he relapses, and she intends to do everything in her power to help him stay sober. Peter Hedges (Lucas’ father) directs here, eliciting great performances from his cast. Ben has caused a lot of pain, not only for his mother, but for his entire family and people in the town who care about him. Without using flashback, Hedges draws on a great screenplay and great performances that show the pain and effect of a troubled son’s return.
While the second half of the film very effectively changes gears, and turns into something of a search and rescue film, the depth of the performances remain top notch!
This was the second film starring Lucas Hedges to play at the festival. Boy Erased screened the day before, and Ben is Back had the audience applauding and tearing up. By the film’s end, I could hear the mothers around me choking back sobs –- you know they’re mothers when they gasp at the screen and say, “Don’t do it” during moments in the film.
After that, Clayton Davis of Awards Circuit hosted a friendly cornhole game on the lawn of the resort, with two festival bags signed by Joel Edgerton. We found some guests willing to be a good sport. The weather was perfect with the sun shining down on this warm Fall day.
Don’t bother picking me to be on your cornhole team. My southpaw throw is the worst. However, I am good with trivia. I was the only one who knew the name of the land where Frozen was set. The million and one viewings sure paid off.
Them it was back to the Salamander Ballroom for a music concert and the presentation of the First ever Impact Award. Each year, this is one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Previously, the Distinguished Composer Award recipients have included Nicholas Britell and Carter Burwell. Typically, a symphony orchestra will play along, but as Ray Costa, Musical director of the segment said, “What do you do with a songwriter? You hire a band and have her songs performed.”
Marissa Corvo who came in 7th on American Idol accompanied the musicians, mainly from Jersey, to perform the gamut of songs for which Warren has received Oscar nominations – We were reminded that Warren has been nominated nine times!! How on earth is she still Oscarless??
The audience was treated to Warren singing and performing I’ll Fight, an anthem from RBG. The hour-long tribute ended with the entire Salamander Ballroom on its feet dancing to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back time!
Next up was a screening of The Favourite. I somehow had missed every LA invitation to see this film so it’s one I’d been dying to see.
I love anything to do with the British monarchy. With Yorgos Lanthimos at the helm, I knew I’d be getting a wickedly dastardly fun movie about Queen Anne and her court. I was not disappointed.
The trio of performance from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz is simply superb. Colman plays Queen Anne. She’s not in a great state mentally or physically, her country is at war over taxes, and she is plagued by gout, barely able to move around the royal palace. Weisz plays Lady Sarah Marlborough, the queen’s lady in waiting who does considerably more than wait. She’s devilishly close to the Queen in ways that will shock the faintest of hearts. Remember this is Lanthimos! All is well in the royal palace until Lady Marlborough’s cousin, Abigail (Stone) shows up. Lady Abigail has fallen on hard times and once she discovers the bedroom antics of Queen Anne, the cards are in her hands. The film is sinfully wicked as the profanity rolls off their tongues. The scheming is absurdly fun. Women are in charge here and The Favourite is a ridiculously fun film. If you’re offended by the C word… this is not for you, but dare you miss such brilliant performances from this trio of excellence? On your head be it.
What a treat. Sandy Powell’s costumes are opulently regal. The detail on the gowns are a visual costume feast.
Jennifer and I had a 45-minute break before The Front Runner, the Saturday night centerpiece. By 45 minutes, I mean 30 minutes, because we had to be in line for the screening. So, we dashed upstairs to change and guess what? Guess what?! We were starving. So we rang room service to see what time our food could be delivered. Oh yes, we got to order the infamous crab cakes burger. The food came and we wolfed the burger down. Let me tell you, this delicacy is worth the wait. It is food porn heaven. We didn’t have time to devour the fries and I thought it would be smart to have cold fries later. Ha! I realized when I got back to LA I had left my fries behind, stashed in the ice bucket wrapped in a tissue. Tragic.
Jason Reitman was there to introduce the film which played well to the D.C crowd. Reitman later told me he had just come back from the London Film Festival where he enjoyed seeing how the film played there. In Middleburg, everyone had a memory of Gary Hart’s fall from grace. In the U.K, he’s almost unheard of, so questions pertained to his craft of filmmaking rather than the political scandal memories.
The after party on Saturday night is always a fun event, a must-attend soiree. After three days of festival fun, those of us in attendance can let our hair down and just groove to the music. It was a great way to end the night.
Sunday would be an interview-filled day, and I would get to moderate my first Middleburg Film Festival Q&A there: Chatting to Nadine Labaki about her film Capernaum.