September 25, 2019

VIFF 2019 | Atom Egoyan Unravels A 'Guest of Honour'

VIFF 2019—Prolific Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan's latest film, Guest of Honour, is an odd blend of family melodrama wrapped in a multi-timeline mystery (sometimes sexual) thriller told through food safety inspection. It sounds like a weird mix because it is. Starring British actor David Thewlis as Jim, a boring Toronto restaurant inspector, the genre-bending story veers back and forth between likeable situational work comedy and a hyper-dramatic criminal retelling.

As Jim's grown daughter Veronica, Laysla De Oliveira acts as the primary storyteller as her backstory and estranged family history frame the film's main events intercut with her father's apparently menial life. How the interlocking timelines converge into drama with vaguely criminal elements seems unusually cavalier despite how strange (think rabbit motif) it ultimately is.

Surprisingly, comic actor Luke Wilson, as a tender priest, is tasked with some heavy-lifting as Veronica recounts her strained paternal relationship and murky past directly to him. This layered, non-chronological storytelling makes mundane but amusing events feel thrilling despite the story being rather uneven and somewhat unsatisfying when finally laid out in full.

Full of secrets and dramatic shifts in tone, Guest of Honour is a bizarrely dysfunctional father/daughter drama wrapped in a family comedy that can't seem to decide what is wants to be or where it's going before an undramatically conventional ending that comes off as both far too neat and tidy yet still so incredulous. Egoyan's deft filmmaking instincts manage to make most things feel somewhat delightful. However, it's hard to get over the ridiculous (but fun) plot conventions.

Guest of Honour screens at the opening gala of the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama stream at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.


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