The 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival kicked off on Thursday night with a rousing double bill at the Princess of Wales Theatre: opening night feature “Demolition,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, followed immediately by the Michael Moore documentary “Where to Invade Next.”
The evening started off with Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee preserving his hot streak at Toronto with the world premiere of his black comedy “Demolition.” Unlike recent pictures that disappointed in the inaugural slot, such as the execrable “The Fifth Estate” and the hackneyed “The Judge,” “Demolition” received an enthusiastic reception. It’s not due in theaters until April 8, but Fox Searchlight hopes that the quirky story of an investment banker (Gyllenhaal) who suffers a breakdown after his wife dies in a car crash can build buzz months before its release.
The screening of “Demolition” was preceded by a look back at Toronto’s four-decade history. Set to disco music, the footage highlighted the early days of the festival, with snapshots of stars like Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Emma Thompson, Reese Witherspoon and Bill Murray. Then the fest’s artistic director Cameron Bailey expressed his excitement for the opening night selection, noting that it followed a series of strong performances by Gyllenhaal in the likes of “Nightcrawler” and “Southpaw.” “We call it the ‘Jake quake,'” he said. “You can hashtag that.”
In a spirited introduction, packed with superlatives, Vallee thanked Toronto for hosting so many of his films, a list that includes “Wild,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Young Victoria.” “This is the most rock ‘n’ roll film I’ve ever made,” he said of “Demolition.”
He introduced a cast that included Naomi Watts (appearing in a beige dress that was layered like a scrunchy) and Chris Cooper. But he saved his highest praises for Gyllenhaal. “There’s nothing he hasn’t done, he hasn’t tried,” said Vallee. “You’ll see him act, of course. You’ll see him dance. You’ll see him sing.”
After the crowds dispersed from “Demolition,” Michael Moore unveiled his hotly anticipated new documentary “Where to Invade Next.” The film, in its first public screening, was interrupted regularly by applause, as interviewees made points about health care, capital punishment, racial and gender equality, education and multiple other topics about the country’s need to recapture the American Dream. “I’m so overcome watching this film with this audience that I’m shaking,” said Moore.
He told the audience that it has been several years between his latest film and 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” because “I’m tired of being the poster boy for Fox News.” The film so far has no distributor, but the bidding is expected to be intense and could carry on throughout the evening.
The after party for “Demolition” was held at Patria, a swanky restaurant featuring Italianate art and stacks of vodka bottles. “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner and “Prisoners” director Denis Villeneuve mingled with the cast and Searchlight executives.
Gyllenhaal warmly greeted a line of admirers who congratulated his performance, including buddy Villeneuve, who is at Toronto with “Sicario.” Watts sat in a booth, checking her iPhone, and director Jean-Marc Vallee said he’d take time off after doing three movies back to back.
Gyllenhaal, who shot “Demolition” over a frenzied 38-day period last year, said there were even more scenes of him breakdancing through the streets of Manhattan, but they were cut from the finished product. Not to worry. “It will be on the DVD outtakes,” Vallee promised.
Tim Gray contributed to this story.