JDIFF Review – The Congress

Robin Wright (Robin Wright) is an aging, out of work actress who has devoted much of her life to her family. When she is called into Miramount Studios, she believes she will be offered the role of a lifetime. Instead, studio boss Jeff (Danny Huston) wants to offer her the last job of her career; a process where she is scanned and captured on computers so her likeness will keep performing, but will never have to again. Reluctantly, Wright considers the offer, although the consequences are further reaching than she could possibly imagine.

The Congress, inspired in part by Stanisław Lem’s sci-fi novel Futurological Congress, is a combination of live action and animation that opens up the debate about the future of actors, performers and the human race.

Playing a fictionalised version of herself, Robin Wright sets her ego aside to tell the story of an aging actress considered too old by the industry she works in. Not only is this an examination of the film industry, but an examination of gender roles in society. How old is too old for a woman to be taken seriously? As it turns out, in The Congress, not that old at all. Wright plays a character who is warm and apprehensive, and it seems her only motivation in life is the love she has for her family.

Harvey Kietel stars as Wright’s agent Al, and he gives a wonderfully warm speech about his childhood as he convinces Wright to complete the scanning process. Paul Giamatti carries on his tradition of playing characters with a touch of world-weariness as Dr. Barker. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Wright’s young son Aaron, and Jon Hamm lends his voice to Dylan, one of the film’s animated characters; a man who has loved Wright from afar for many years.

The film is set in some futuristic world where celebrities and actors have become commodities to be bought and sold, rather than actual people. It is clear that this is a comment on our celebrity obsessed culture, and the film has touches of Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral in it’s treatment of those who acquire fame. As well as this, the film is an examination of family, how far people go to protect the people they love, ageism, sexism, technology and identity.

There are times – especially when the film switches from live action to animation – where The Congress feels almost a little to batshit crazy to be accessible, but thankfully the film is anchored by Wright, both in the live action segments and through a strong and engaging voice performance in the animated segments.

The Congress is an engaging and curious look at the fears and concerns that keep us all awake in the middle of the night. Robin Wright is simply luminous in this batshit crazy yet not that unrealistic world, and the story – while it has touches of many other films about it – is unique, absorbing and actually rather fun.

Rating: 4/5

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