Following the world premiere last Friday of the yet-to-be-acquired Thank You for Smoking at the Toronto International Film Festival, Adam Brody, one of the film’s stars, hung out in the makeshift V.I.P. room at the party being held in the Chanel Boutique on Bloor Street. Looking an awful lot like his OC alter ego Seth Cohen in a red-and-white-striped sweater, jeans and sneakers, the lanky Mr. Brody popped a mini-hamburger into his mouth and started talking about his experiences at the film festival (his first), when he was interrupted with a bear hug from a broadly grinning, deeply tanned man in a polo shirt, who exclaimed, “Holy shit! You fucking stole that movie!”
“No, that’s not true at all,” said the 25-year-old Mr. Brody with a pleased smile.
“That movie is fantastic. It’s so good,” the man continued, flashing white teeth and keeping a hand on Mr. Brody’s shoulder.
“Are you guys going to buy it?” said Mr. Brody, suddenly serious.
“We’re going to try. It’s so good.”
“You have to try.”
The teeth and the tan belonged to Lawrence Grey, vice president of production for Fox Searchlight, the company that within 48 hours would tangle for—and win—distribution rights to the movie, which is directed by 27-year-old-Jason Reitman (son of comedy producer/director Ivan Reitman). The adaptation of the 1994 Christopher Buckley novel reportedly sold for between $7 million and $9 million. Variety would gleefully report on the fierce bidding—the handshake deal done with Paramount Classics, trumped at the last moment by Fox Searchlight—resulting in both Paramount and Fox triumphantly claiming to have received the rights.
“The fact that multiple studios bid intensely for this movie is a testament to what Jason has achieved,” said David O. Sacks, producer of the film, in a statement (no doubt hoping to clear up any misconceptions). “However, I want to be clear that only one studio, Fox Searchlight, bought the movie. Audiences have reacted with laughter, applause and delight beyond even our wildest expectations …. Realizing dreams like this are what film festivals are all about.”
Meanwhile: Toronto is not New York. This is probably a true statement on a regular day. There are the almost-creepy clean streets, the somewhat alien and cavernous malls that make up a subterranean city, the startling black squirrels. And the people: smiling, exceedingly polite Canadians who like to engage in a little chit-chat while standing in line at the many (many) Starbucks. But fly in a city’s worth of accredited press, Hollywood movers and shakers from both coasts, and a spattering of movie stars, and you have a whole other freak show.
“There’s just so many screenings and publicists to remember—and every office seems to have a Jessica,” said a slightly frazzled radio producer, waving a tattered notebook bursting with papers and invitations. The Toronto International Film Festival, while ostensibly a showcase for filmmakers to find funding, serves another purpose: It’s an early forecast of Oscar season. Last year, the hot films out of Toronto were Sideways and Hotel Rwanda; this year, festivalgoers were already whispering about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in Capote and his Oscar chances. With this speculation comes the rest: which stars should be featured on magazine covers, which publicists and studios should start to be sucked up to, which studio exec suddenly has all the juice …. The pressure brings back familiar adolescent anxieties: You saw Capote in New York before the festival? Did you get tickets to the Elizabethtown gala? What about an invite to the party for “the gay cowboy movie” (Brokeback Mountain)? How about the after-party? You interviewed Val Kilmer for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Well, I’m doing Robert Downey Jr.
The worrisome jockeying for position carries though all ranks: Local papers from Denver and Cleveland are trumped by the L.A. and New York ones. Well-known critics like The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis (“I didn’t think she’d be that attractive,” whispered a Philadelphia-based journalist. “I thought she was a lot younger,” answered her companion), former Timesman Elvis Mitchell and Premiere magazine’s Glen Kenney are elevated to practically celeb status.
And then there are the bona fide celebrities, unable to sneak into back entrances, forced to interact with the real world. One afternoon in the Four Season hotel lobby, Viggo Mortensen held the elevator door and waited as the packed elevator car disgorged itself. Erika Christensen chatted on a cell phone while Claire Danes, starring in the much-buzzed-about Shopgirl with Steve Martin, waited for her lunch date, dog in tow.
“He’s been an idol of mine—and most of the world’s—since I came into existence,” she said of Mr. Martin. She was wearing a cream silk blouse and cropped tailored pants. “He was very generous with this story. I’ve been so profoundly impressed at his ability as a comic, a writer, an actor. He’s really virtuosic in a lot of different disciplines.” She smiled. “He’s spooky smart.”
The film, based on Mr. Martin’s novella, is a bittersweet romance between an older, wealthy and worldly man, played by the 60-year-old Mr. Martin, and a Neiman Marcus shop girl played by Ms. Danes, who is 26.
“She’s objectified and she isn’t,” Ms. Danes said. “We’re not trying to pretend we’re at all close in age, which is the case with so many other movies. What’s exceptional about this story is that, despite their efforts to remain at a certain distance, they actually stumble upon actual intimacy. It’s like … whoops!
“I find a lot of women really get it, really identify with it,” she continued. “I think it’s really incredible that Steve could render a female character as richly as he did.”
The film was indeed popular with a mainly female audience earlier that day. Other talked-about films included the new Ang Lee film, Brokeback Mountain, which was given the prestigious Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion award on the third day of this festival.
Another audience favorite was comedienne Sarah Silverman’s Jesus Is Magic, which had a packed midnight screening on the opening night of the festival, complete with foot-stomping publicists demanding tickets.
“It was a really fun screening. I thought, Who is going to be up at midnight?” said Ms. Silverman the following morning, popping some vitamins and drinking water on the patio of the InterContinental Hotel. A self-professed OC fan, she seemed tickled by Mr. Brody’s attendance.
“I’ve met the cast members before, and I’m so star-struck because I’m such a super-fan,” she said.
(Later that evening, Mr. Brody would reply: “I love her. With people that funny, I’m always really concerned that I’ll bore them. So I feel glad she likes me enough to talk to me.”) The two stars would be seen later huddled over drinks and cigarettes at the Motorola sponsored party with fellow attendees Stephen Dorff, Luis Guzman and Johnathon Schaech.
With the popularity of The Aristocrats (“I cannot fucking believe that my big breakout thing is this thing I did for a friend in 15 minutes on a couch”), more and more people are becoming aware of Ms. Silverman, who has long been the pin-up girl to smart boys and dates late-night ABC host Jimmy Kimmel.
“I think when guys like me, they think they’re the only ones. I think I’m approachable hot—I’m attractive in a way that I think men find totally attainable,” she joked. “I Googled myself and found that I was No. 2 in a list of horse-faced celebrities. Howard Stern’s girlfriend was No. 1. No. 6? Abraham Lincoln.” She shrugged. “I saw it as a list for horse-faced celebrities.”
But for all the movies generating heat, many were taking a nosedive. Cameron Crowe’s latest, Elizabethtown, was taking a beating from many who made it into the premiere. Another thing about Toronto: One can’t sit in a hushed screening room without hearing the rise and fall of some puffed-up know-it-all opining.
“People went crazy for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada at Cannes,” said a man who wouldn’t have been able to pay his way into a meatpacking district nightclub.
“Honestly, Cannes is such a vulgar little beach town,” sniffed his almost identical-looking companion.
Director Terry Gilliam’s latest, Tideland, attracted a long line an hour prior to its screening. But the fantastical film was hard to stomach, with lots of unpleasant imagery (a little girl sits on Jeff Bridges’ lap; he’s dead; she pushes his stomach and he farts); about a third of the audience walked out in the first hour. “What’s next?” huffed an audience member. “Is someone actually going to take a shit onscreen?” Not surprisingly, director Brian De Palma stayed until the end.
But back to the Cinderella story of the festival: Thank You for Smoking, a zippy and hilarious film about a big-tobacco lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart, with a supporting cast that includes Mr. Brody, Katie Holmes (who blessedly kept the Cruise circus away by not attending), Maria Bello, Sam Elliott, Rob Lowe and Robert Duvall. After the first-ever look at the film, partygoers gathered at the Chanel Boutique. The director Sydney Pollack, in town for his own film, Sketches of Frank Gehry, played with his yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet. One partygoer described the screening as “going over like gangbusters.” The young writer and director, Jason Reitman, was looking a tad flushed.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “No one had seen it before tonight—it was the big unveiling. I was so nervous. My God, you have no idea. I was sitting next to my wife, and my palms were sweating—it was like my wedding day all over again.”
The book by Mr. Buckley captured Mr. Reitman’s attention. “A good friend of mine gave it to me, and I had never read something so funny, so politically hard-hitting and aligned with my own politics,” he said. “I thought, ‘I need to make this movie.’”
After what Mr. Reitman termed “forever,” he was able to convince the powers that be that even with just a few shorts to his name, he was the man for the job. “The day I was hired, I called Chris Buckley and said, ‘Hey, this is Jason Reitman—the guy they hired to fuck up your book.’ I think he was charmed by it.”
Mr. Reitman, of course, had a leg up: He grew up with a father who had given the world Stripes and Ghostbusters. “I have an amazing relationship with my dad. He’s proud of me, and that’s an honor.”
A full two days before the studios would fight over his effort, Mr. Reitman’s eyes widened at the thought of the film selling within the day. “Oh God,” he said. “You hear of that kind of thing happening. I’m just happy that the audience was laughing tonight.”