(Canada, 99 min.)
Dir. Pavan Moondi & Brian Robertson, Writ. Pavan Moondi
Starring: Leah Goldstein, Nick Flanagan, Leah Wildman, Adam Gurfinkel
"I'm awful," says Edith (Leah Goldstein, best known as July Talk vocalist Leah Fay) to a friend in Diamond Tongues. This revelation comes too late in the game to redeem this disappointing maplecore drama. Edith, an actress, is awful both as a dramatist and as a person. She's spoiled. She's whiney. She's boring. Admitting how much Edith sucks, however, doesn't make Diamond Tongues any better. It’s an ambitious lo-fi drama that doesn’t match in execution what it brings in passion.
Filmmakers Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson present this whiny brat as Diamond Tongues charts a coming-of-age tale that ultimately leads to a rude awakening. Edith struggles to land acting gigs after she dumps her boyfriend to pursue acting more seriously, but each scene brings her on a downward stumble into thirtysomething pathetic-ness. Edith doesn't work for a living, yet she spends her days trouncing around Toronto in a fur coat, or lazing about checking her iPhone and MacBook in her downtown apartment. She expects roles and success to come to her naturally and borrows snippets of lives for friends to play the role of a successful actress. Edith’s performance fails to convince even herself and, at her worst and pettiest, she sabotages her friends who succeed. Growing up just plain sucks when all one’s peers have visible results like jobs and families, but Diamond Tongues doesn’t empower the aimlessly single and childless like smarter dramedies like, say, this year’s While We’re Young does, as Edith blows one figurative raspberry after another.
The film follows Edith’s struggles as she auditions for a cheesy thriller called Blood Sausage (har har) and lands a second audition after a shockingly bad first one. Her potential big break gets a sour note when Ben (Adam Gurfinkel), her bloody ex-BF, lands the male lead in Blood Sausage and derails Edith’s confidence or lack thereof. She gets drinks and all that, picking up men on Craig’s List and trolling others, and Diamond Tongues introduces a host of seedy characters who up the ick factor. Every male character in Diamond Tongues outside of Edith’s friend/confidant Nick (Nick Flanagan) is a creeper, pervert, or douchebag, but Edith never seems much better by comparison, especially when she cooks up a first date for a random that could be the premise for any slasher movie, even Blood Sausage.
Pettiness ensues and Edith trolls tragically hip Toronto hot spots (ex: club/brothel Cherry Cola) and waltzes like the flâneuse of the Toronto indie film scene. She gaps about Facebook and the artificiality of impersonal communication, or debates crowdfunding perks with peers in self-conscious convos. The film has an appeal for a certain niche of younger cinephiles, but Diamond Tongues is ultimately a little too’ Queen West hipster’ as Edith wallows in her angst and drowns in First World Problems for eighty minutes before realizing that she’s an awful excuse for a human being. The film itself is as carefully composed to match the grungy aesthetic of Queen and Bathurst with some colorfully arresting club scenes, while Moondi and Robertson favour handheld camerawork, lensed by DP (Peter Dreimanis, also from July Talk), that jitters and bobs to emphasize the low-fi origins and align with a wave of indie filmmaking. Diamond Tongues mostly favours handheld long takes of medium shots, but the cinematography proves annoying and distracting, though, as the shaky camerawork even makes the shoulder of Goldstein’s scene partner the star of Edith’s most revelatory moment as the camera wobbles and sways to obscure Edith from view. Diamond Tongues is therefore a meticulously coiffed bedhead in which each hair is precisely tousled to say that it doesn't give a fuck about its appearance and that it gives less of a fuck if anyone cares, although the self-conscious effortlessness really means that it really, really, really, wants to be loved.
Diamond Tongues nevertheless brings an element of novelty to the screen as Goldstein takes the lead in her first dramatic performance. The role calls for subtlety and nuance, and Goldstein performs competently for a debut actor, but Diamond Tongues rarely gives the viewer a chance to sympathize with Edith or let Goldstein hold the screen with the same magnetism of her musical performances. The script by Moondi doesn’t give Edith enough depth for Goldstein to let the character’s fallibility simmer under the film’s surface and he’s a spoiled brat by consequence. The July Talk star shows a lot of potential, but maybe even Blood Sausage could have afforded a better debut. Goldstein’s coquettish performance paints an overly-entitled millennial who lives in her own reality, and her waify screen presence works best when Diamond Tongues needs Edith to be a deer in the headlights, terrified and reckless even though she’s behind the wheel. She shows none of the self-consciousness that Diamond Tongues does, and there’s probably some worthy bedhead here hidden underneath the film’s rumpled mane.
Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)
Diamond Tongues opens in Toronto at TIFF Lightbox on Friday, August 7.