Was it just a tribute to fellow Canadian Jason Reitman that drew the longest line that your correspondent has seen in Toronto so far to the American Beauty live reading on Thursday? The opportunity to hear Mad Men seductress Christina Hendricks berate her fellow AMC star Bryan Cranston and “bed” an unlikely cable comedian? Or the fact that the event had initially been booked on the film festival program simply as “a surprise” that drew the crowd crowd? Judging from the queued ticket holders wrapped around three sides of a city block—some of whom still did not know which actors would be playing the roles from Alan Ball’s Oscar-winning screenplay, even after waiting in line for two hours—we still have no idea. Regardless of their line-forming motivation, the festival goers were eventually ushered into the theater for a Reitman-directed table read of American Beauty as an extension of his series in Los Angeles this past year.
For Reitman, returning to Ryerson Theater was especially meaningful because he had premiered Thank You For Smoking in the same space seven years earlier. “I really did not know if it would be the beginning or the end of my [filmmaking]. So this is the birthing room of my career.” (Incidentally, Reitman has other history with the festival—his filmmaker father’s family donated the land on which the T.I.F.F. headquarters stands today. The block is now named Reitman Square.)
Bryan Cranston starred as Lester Burnham, the sad sack suburbanite role for which Kevin Spacey won an Academy Award. The Emmy winner played Lester as more acerbic than Spacey had, his deliveries a bit more cutting and energized. Christina Hendricks’s take on Carolyn Burnham, the rose-snipping real estate agent and wife to Lester, was breathier than Annette Bening’s—part passive aggression, part Marilyn Monroe. The Perks of Being a Wallflower star Mae Whitman made for an appropriately anguished Jane Burnham (Thora Birch) and Cosmopolis actress Sarah Gadon turned in a more subtle performance of Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). Girls star Adam Driver, who plays Lena Dunham’s vaguely creepy boyfriend, channeled the Burnhams’ subtly strange neighbor, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). Rounding out the cast were comedic actor Nick Kroll as Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) and Paul Scheer as Buddy “Real Estate King” Kane (Peter Gallagher).
In keeping with the sex and drugs-related themes of their respective television series, Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks drew the largest laughs when Cranston mimicked smoking marijuana before his wife catches him. Similarly, audiences enjoyed Hendricks and Scheer’s interpretation of the “do you like getting nailed by the king?” motel sex scene. (Stage bow.) Although it (neither the sex scene nor the reading) lasted as long as some audience members’ waits in line had, the audience wildly applauded American Beauty—should it be retitled if performed in Toronto to Canadian Beauty?—one of the few live performances of the film festival.