TIFF 2016 Movie Review: UNLESS (Canada/Ireland 2016) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

unless_poster.jpgUNLESS (Canada/Ireland 2016) ***
Directed by Alan Gilsenan

Starring: Catherine Keener, Matt Craven, Hannah Gross

Review by Matthew Toffolo

Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener and Hannah Gross star in this adaptation of the final novel by the late, great Canadian novelist Carol Shields, about a writer who discovers her runaway daughter panhandling on the street and seemingly deprived of speech.

An accomplished writer and translator, Reta Winters (Keener) is blindsided and flummoxed by the recent actions of her eldest daughter, Norah (Hannah Gross). For no discernible reason, Norah has dropped out of university and now spends her days panhandling on the sidewalk outside of Toronto landmark Honest Ed’s.

The cardboard sign she affixes to her chest features only one word: GOODNESS. Reta fears losing her connection to her daughter, but is it possible Norah is seeking some way of reconnecting to the world?

The question remains throughout the film of “WHY?”. Why is this happening to this girl? Is this a spiritual journey that Norah is experiencing, or is it more of an emotional breakdown? The payoff does come in the end and it’s perhaps a bit perplexing on what took so long for this family to figure this all out! The only real flaw of this film.

This is a very original film in terms of its story and how it treats a person like Norah. I’m sure many in the medical profession would roll their eyes at this film as science demands an answer. It’s simple cause and effect equaling a conclusion to why. UNLESS attempts to answer the “WHY” from a more metaphysical point of view. Things are not that simple and many humans need to explore what this world and existence is all about – especially after experiencing a tragedy like Norah has.

UNLESS is simply the perfect film for a festival like TIFF. It’s never going to garner a large amount of attention and many critics will dismiss this film because its plot points and directorial design aren’t something they are used to. If you’re a fan of festivals and are looking to see films that you won’t see at the cinema or on NetFlix, UNLESS is that perfect film.

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