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Inside TIFF 2014: “The Judge” and “The Humbling”

Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, and Greta Gerwig celebrate during the Toronto International Film Festival.

Robert Downey Jr. came in hot, ready to party. And by party I mean got down on his knees to talk meaningfully to a seven-year-old. At under four feet tall, Emma Tremblay, who plays his daughter in the new Warner Bros. drama The Judge, was dwarfed by a throng of studio executives as she timidly approached Downey’s booth. He immediately put her at ease by popping down for a conspiratorial chat. At a certain point, they both gazed up at the dozen or so framed black-and-white film stills in director Ivan Reitman’s new Toronto boîte Montecito (co-owned with chef Jonathan Waxman). From Ghostbusters to Animal House to Stripes, the images in the main dining room serve as a poignant trip down memory lane. It seemed Downey was trying to explain the cult significance of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (of which the restaurant has three on display) to his tender aged co-star. What’s more darling than a man who’s good with kids?

Downey getting down to Tremblay’s level in a sea of Hollywood heavy hitters foreshadows what’s around the corner in his own life. His wife Susan Downey (née Levin) is due to give birth to his first baby girl in November. A lot has certainly changed in the life of this rakish raconteur; he’s gone from late night Bjork dance parties to Baby Björn expert, becoming one of the most human superstars since, well, Chaplin.

The last time Downey was at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was back in 2005 with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his comeback calling card to Jon Favreau for Iron Man. Nine years later, he’s back in Toronto as the highest-paid actor in the world, as reported by Forbes, having earned roughly $75 million between June 2013 and June 2014.

The Audi-hosted party following the world premiere of The Judge was officially in lockdown, one of the tightest opening night parties in a decade at TIFF. When Downey first arrived, he caught his breath by the service station near the open kitchen, surveying the Bacchanalian spread for this post-premiere bash. That’s right, the world’s most bankable star went straight for the already famous Montecito meatballs (the restaurant has only been open for two weeks). Montecito’s location on Adelaide West, immediately behind the TIFF Bell Lightbox, makes it an instant festival hotspot.

In one corner of the room, Robert Duvall enjoyed catching up with co-stars Vera Farmiga and Vincent D’Onofrio. In the booth next to Downey, Kristen Bell and husband Dax Shepard huddled with legendary producer Lawrence Bender and director Jason Reitman. Even producer Robert Lantos came to the venue early—too early—and had to circle the block, the price of putting in 30 seconds of face time with Creative Artists Agency partner Bryan Lourd, one of the most powerful titans in the film industry.

The Judge marks the first feature from Team Downey, a shingle started by Downey and his wife, a veteran producer. In the sobering family drama, Downey sinks his formidable teeth into a non-genre vehicle. He plays a slick Chicago lawyer estranged from his hostile father (played by Duvall), a tyrannical judge in a small town. Warner Bros. has slated the film for October, prime real estate considering both of the studio’s recent Academy success stories—Argo and Gravity—hit theatres a month after premiering at TIFF.

Earlier in the evening, Icon Legacy and Ink Entertainment played host to a private party for The Humbling at the Virgin Mobile lounge at 11 Duncan Street. The film is set on a farm in upstate New York and centres on the spark between an aged, suicidal actor (Al Pacino) and a much younger woman (Greta Gerwig). Outside, Pacino drew a legion of fans, ever eager to catch a glimpse of Tony Montana himself.

Inside, an intimate guest list filled the second and third floors of the Storys Building. Luminous in a pink lemonade cocktail dress, Gerwig chatted in a corner booth on the third floor with boyfriend Noah Baumbach (who directed her masterfully in Frances Ha). Pacino and his girlfriend Lucila Solá tried to hold hands, but as the summer-of-the-selfie would have it, they were interrupted every three steps as camera-wielding party-goers cornered The Godfather star, trying to capture a shot. Pacino graciously took it in stride and with good humour. Now there’s a consummate pro.

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