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Inside TIFF 2014: Standout Performances

Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Reese Witherspoon, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, and Brian Wilson.

Not to be upstaged by Buckingham Palace’s announcement of the Royal Baby Part II, first things first: Eddie Redmayne is genius at playing genius. The Theory of Everything is the story of world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, once a doe-eyed, scrappy student at Cambridge over 50 years ago, even serving as coxswain on the rowing team. In this biopic, Oscar-winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire) focuses less on Hawking’s scientific trajectory, instead revealing his tender romance with Jane Wilde (played by Felicity Jones)—apt, since the script is adapted from her memoirs.

After wowing the crowds on the red carpet at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Redmayne and Jones escaped to Audi’s private premiere party at Patria on King Street West. I was quick to quip to Redmayne on his performance, “So I’ll be seeing you at the BAFTAs then in February, I can’t wait to hear your acceptance speech. You gave us a master class in portraying a brilliant mind’s betrayal by the body.” His depiction of such was something I haven’t seen the likes of since Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot.

“You really saw all that, thank God. I was terrified it wouldn’t translate,” he admitted. “There were so many transformations filmed in a dizzying non-linear sequence, I got lost in it.” I told him to clear his mantle. There will be statues. His publicist then pluckily chimed in, “From your lips to God’s ears.”

But the greatest and most meaningful approval came not from the critics, but from Hawking himself. He saw an early cut and reached out to the producers, wanting to lend the film his real voice. Replacing the production team’s sound files and giving the project even more authenticity, the 72-year-old scientist recorded the script’s lines using his own unique computerized voice system.

The Theory of Everything had me at the moment the couple meets and exchanges majors. “Science,” Hawking says, when he first meets Wilde’s gaze. “Arts,” she replies. “The perfect couple.” A Tony Award–winner who has emerged on the silver screen with roles in My Week with Marilyn and Les Miserables, Redmayne gives the kind of performance that traditionally speaking, the Academy has so richly rewarded.

Earlier in the evening, Reese Witherspoon arrived all smiles and sass at the Audi premiere party for The Good Lie. Her small entourage was quick to colonize a prime corner of Nota Bene’s dining room, and within seconds, fresh sharing plates of the haute resto’s finest fare seamlessly appeared. The southern belle stayed true to her roots and went straight for the smoky grilled chicken.

Later, when a waiter made the fatal mistake of sailing past Witherspoon with a wood slat of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, things got interesting. Reese tapped one of her group on the back and pointed to the cookies. When America’s sweetheart needs a cookie fix, it’s serious business. Husband Jim Toth, ever alert to his wife’s blood sugar levels, saved the day and launched himself over the low table in a single bound, bringing the baked goods back around. Now there’s a keeper.

Filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, and South Africa, the Warner Bros. film is based on real-life events and features Witherspoon as a brash American woman assigned to help four young Sudanese refugees (known as Lost Boys of Sudan) who win a lottery for relocation to the United States. Witherspoon is working alongside two Canadian directors at TIFF: Philippe Falardeau for The Good Lie and Jean-Marc Vallée for Wild. “It’s a new perspective,” she said. “They’re not American so they actually get to have social critique from their perspective.”

Across town, there was the Audi party at Cluny Bistro in the Distillery for the world premiere of This is Where I Leave You. The Warner Bros ensemble comedy chronicles a neurotic family brought back under the same roof by the death of its patriarch. The cast of comedy heroes, led by Jane Fonda, were out in full force at the party. Tina Fey made faces at Jason Bateman in one corner, while across the room Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, and Dax Shepard chummed around over plates of fresh oysters. SuitsAbigail Spencer shored up the fashion quotient in an immaculate mosaic print by Dolce & Gabbana. There were nearly as many comedic stars as there were guests; a funny party ratio that hasn’t happened at TIFF since I Heart Huckabees brought Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Isla Fisher, and Shania Twain to the Gucci flagship on Bloor Street. At one point, Ben Schwartz made Connie Britton laugh so hard she hiccupped. All in all, the feel-good party of the night.

Grey Goose Soho House hosted not one but two gorgeous parties last night. Downstairs, a sparkling cocktail party to commemorate the world premiere of Love & Mercy, a biographical account of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. The film follows Wilson’s journey from his highly-influential orchestral pop albums to his nervous breakdown and subsequent encounter with controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. Earlier in the week, as far back as at the party for The Judge, industry types were in a tizzy over “will he or won’t he”, making wagers over whether Wilson would show. Last night he appeared, palpably changing the entire dynamic of the party.

Wilson settled in Buddha-style on one of the private club’s plushy sofas, barely moving all night. One by one, cast members went over to thank the 72-year-old founding member of America’s favourite surf band. John Cusack was by his side first, whispering into his ear. Elizabeth Banks and Paul Dano followed, each taking time to honour the frontman’s presence.

Upstairs at Grey Goose Soho House, Miss Julie director Liv Ullmann and lead actress Jessica Chastain enjoyed an intimate gathering, communing with crew and friends to toast the world premiere of the drama. Based on the infamous play by August Strindberg, Ullmann gives the material an Anglophone interpretation; the film is set in Ireland and stars a trio of familiar Hollywood faces in Chastain, Colin Farrell, and Samantha Morton. The Norwegian director delivers a masterful display of vile lust and mercurial emotion, rather apt from the muse of the late Ingmar Bergman. Chastain’s harrowing performance builds to a volcanic eruption, her explosive take on Julie will go down as one of her greatest screen triumphs.

Watch this space for more from the Toronto International Film Festival.