As the start of my TIFF 2023 reactions, I’d like to focus on my top picks of the festival, CHUCK CHUCK BABY, and the below reaction that I furiously typed into my iPad afterwards. I knew that I had just experienced genius and want to follow the journey of Janis Pugh’s wonderful new movie.
ABOUT: A film of love, loss, music, and female friendship, set in and around the falling feathers of a chicken processing plant in industrial north Wales.
Helen (Louise Brealey), a reserved, gentle woman, is slowly collapsing under the weight of her inexplicable life. She lives with her torpid husband and his much younger girlfriend (and their new colicky baby), working nights at the local chicken processing plant. There are two things that keep her hanging on: music, and her dear elderly mother-in-law Gwen (Sorcha Cusack), whom she cares for.
This dismal state of affairs is interrupted when Joanne (Annabel Scholey), a former neighbour (and Helen’s schoolgirl crush), arrives back in town after her father’s death. His house holds difficult childhood memories for Joanne, of events that many on the street remember, but since she’s been away, she’s become unapologetic in facing down the small-town malice that’s slung at her. What begins as a casual meeting between the two women swiftly turns to friendship and then to love.
My Reaction: CHUCK CHUCK BABY was the last movie of my very long day of screenings on one of the final days of TIFF. I had no idea what to expect and yet I sat completely transfixed to the screen for 100 minutes, witnessing what I think is absolute perfection of British cinema. This is a love story that is “gay” but the term is never used in the movie. In many ways this is like Patrick Wang’s indie-classic IN THE FAMILY in that the themes are universal and the genders absolutely do not matter when love is the final destination.
This is apparently Janis Pugh’s third movie and I absolutely have to track her earlier two works down. What she has done here is remarkable; she tells the story of small town life with complete originality, a love for music as a form of escape and dealing, a surprisingly gorgeous look and feel with a powerful use of a music, and also how every single character here matters.
Pugh even corrects a common problem I have always had in movies; characters who sing along to music while driving in their car. It was a glaring problem in the recent BARBIE movie where a scene of Barbie singing along to music in a car drones on forever with no joke. Here, their characters do this but it absolutely reveals their character. When our lead sings along to Joni Mitchell we absolutely feel her pain
There’s also some tender and beautiful scenes with Helen and her mother-in-law that absolutely had me wiping tears as we know she is about to die, but the movie is wise to treat this with heart and realism; not only has she accepted it but is also passing along her wisdom and positivity to Helen. Her entire performance is from her bed and it’s mesmerizing.
CHUCK CHUCK BABY is nothing short of a gem and one of the finest examples of Indie filmmaking I have seen in years. This is legit Mike Leigh, Ken Loach territory and I hope this finds a release in North America so I can tell everyone to go see it.
CHUCK CHUCK BABY played at TIFF to great reaction and I will update this article once I hear of a release. TIFF.net