I just finished my third (and likely last) film at TIFF this year and once again, went into this one with only the title in mind. The Public, directed by and starring in the lead role Emilio Estevez, is a comedy-drama film that looks at an issue that, for most of us, is very close to home but often overlooked. Like the other TIFF films I have seen this year, it is very critical of social issues though this film differs in its approach when looking at these issues: it uses comedy.
As always, let’s start with the technical aspects, of which there is nothing I really dislike and a few things I really like. First, the cinematography. There is a lot of motion in the camera work with rarely a still shot, making the film seem very fast paced. While it was a bit fast at times, I really like it for the most part. There’s an effect in particular that really stood out to me, where instead of shifting the point of focus on the camera itself, the entire camera moves to focus on something else. In this case, it shifts between to character’s faces. I’ve never seen this effect before and really like it. Second and lastly, the soundtrack is great. It is very polarized, switching between upbeat hip hop beats and sad music (can’t tell you with what instruments) in the more serious parts. You know a soundtrack is good when it’s something you can imagine listening to apart from the movie.
*SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT*
The Public examines and criticises an issue that is so prevalent in western society: our incessant ability to fictionalise the world we live in. This film uses homelessness as the topic to examine this issue and it’s a good one because it is something that is so prevalent and rarely rectified in our world. Most people are willing to give a bit of spare change but are they willing to provide their own house in the middle of winter? Okay, maybe that’s a bit much but you get my point. Instead of help, most people like to move on with their lives, as if everything is okay. We all live in our own little bubbles. Estevez tries to pop this bubble using peace and love. Just kidding, he uses comedy.
Most of this film takes place in a Cincinnati public library, where, during a very cold winter night, a large group homeless people (who are regular patrons of this library) decide to not get kicked out at 6pm and declare the library an emergency homeless shelter. Stuart Goodson (Estevez), a librarian at the branch, decides to take part in the uprising and the whole thing blows up into a situation involving police, an asshole lawyer mayoral candidate and, somehow, one single news truck. That being said, despite being about a very real topic and technically not an impossible story, this film is filled with the unrealistic and over-the-top. While this did annoy me a bit at first, it is partly a comedy – a really funny comedy – so I’m fine with it. What good comedy isn’t a bit eccentric?
Stuart empathises with the homeless people’s cause, he himself having previously been in a similar situation due to a drug addiction. But when jokingly asked for the use of his apartment by one of the homeless, he gives money instead. Money solves everything, right? But when the library uprising starts, he decides enough is enough and joins them. He does the right thing. The same can be said for a few of the other character, though not all. The news reporter covering the situation knows exactly what sort of peaceful demonstration is going on inside, but portrays the story as a “hostage crisis” instigated by Stuart because, well, that’s the exciting story the people want. The story ends with…actually I won’t say but it’s great.
This film looks at a very serious issue in a very comedic light. While it does have its serious moments, it’s filled with jokes, most of which are funny but some fall flat. The comedic take on this issue is probably to make it more accessible to a wider audience and while being very funny, the film still has its serious moments, maintaining its criticism. Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t already.