Despite profile, it's still the Toronto fan festival


TORONTO -- Critics and acquisitions executives might swarm to the Toronto International Film Festival, now heading into its final days, but this is one fest that always has been about the fans. And Toronto moviegoers don't shy away from lavishing praise and applause on their favorite films and stars, which, for the most part, are appreciatively receptive.

Simon Pegg fans were well-served at the Monday night screening of Picturehouse's "Run, Fat Boy, Run," David Schwimmer's feature directorial debut about a slacker (Pegg) who decides to run a marathon to win back his jilted fiancee (Thandie Newton).

At the postscreening Q&A with Schwimmer, Pegg, Newton and the producers, an audience member asked whether Pegg was ever in a marathon. "Pffft, don't be ridiculous," Pegg sneered comically. Then he turned serious. "I was talking to a journalist earlier about the New York marathon, and I think I should try it."

"Shaddup," came this voice from the back of the theater, so distinct and unmistakable that any Pegg fan could recognize it immediately as belonging to Nick Frost, Pegg's best friend and onscreen chum in such movies as "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz." The audience howled. When the moderator asked for a few more questions from the audience, Frost let out, "Why wasn't Nick in the film?" and more laughs ensued.

Audiences also warmly embraced Fox Searchlight's "Juno," Jason Reitman's heartfelt follow-up to his debut feature "Thank You for Smoking." That latter movie did so well that "Juno" was superstitiously presented at the exact same place and time that "Smoking" screened at Toronto two years ago.

"Juno," which follows a teenage girl (Ellen Page) who gets pregnant, deftly navigates a line between comedy and drama. While nothing like Searchlight's 2006 sensation "Little Miss Sunshine," "Juno" is similar emotionally. And though it didn't have the high seriousness of such high-profile Oscar-bait movies as "No Country for Old Men," "Michael Clayton" and "Into the Wild," it still ignited a bit of an awards buzz. Attention was paid to Diablo Cody's original script, Page, supporting players including Allison Janney and the score by Kimya Dawson. The movie also features Michael Cera, coming off the success of "Superbad."

The buzz campaign began right after the screening, when the cast was onstage for a Q&A, even if it did come from a questioner with an admitted bias. "I wonder if you've written your acceptance speech for the Oscars," a man asked Reitman. Laughing, the director introduced the questioner to the audience: "George Dubiecki, the father of my producing partner Dan Dubiecki, ladies and gentlemen."

Still, there were times when stars resorted to evasive tactics to escape not just the fans but also the paparazzi. New Line Cinema's "Rendition," Gavin Hood's follow-up to his Oscar-winning "Tsotsi," received a rousing standing ovation after it screened at Roy Thompson Hall. Several "bravos" were heard, along with enthusiastic yells.

But while the movie's Reese Witherspoon joined her director for the screening, when it came time for the postscreening dinner at a swanky place called the Fifth, she used pages right out of a CIA handbook. Paparazzi pursued her black Cadillac SUV as it made its way to the restaurant. "She's not in this one, she's not in this one!" yelled the photographer who got to the SUV first. Amid the confusion, Reese, who had pulled a fast one, emerged from another black SUV and quickly was escorted into the building.