Hot Docs Review: Let's All Hate Toronto
So, after a year of gentle build-up, tales of ass-kickings, stolen hockey jerseys, and wounded pride, Mr. Toronto has returned from his coast-to-coast search for an explanation for Canada's hatred of its biggest city. Directed by Albert Neremberg and Rob Spence (Mr. Toronto himself), Let's All Hate Toronto is a film that has understandably garnered a fair bit of attention, both locally and internationally.
But unless you've managed to avoid all the Hot Docs hype, you already knew all that. So on to the bigger question: does the film actually succeed?
I went into Let's All Hate Toronto cautiously optimistic, hoping not to leave stinging with embarrassment from a cringe-inducing episode of Toronto satisfying the expectations of the rest of the country. I mean, Mr. Toronto's walk around Montreal with a "Toronto Appreciation Day" banner and his parade in Edmonton with a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey (emblazoned with Wayne Gretzky's name, no less) would surely just further aggravate the nationwide Toronto-disdain?
As a loud, obnoxious, and occasionally condescending Torontonian, Mr. Toronto perfectly embodies the stereotype of the city he represents. His genuine curiosity and love for Toronto make him very likeable, though, and his journey is almost picaresque in the manner in which it unfolds. He's also pretty funny, and that's an important part of the film: it rarely takes itself too seriously. An early highlight is watching Mr. Toronto struggle trying to come up with a font and slogan that screams "world class," much to the frustration of the designer who can't seem to satisfy him.
Just because the movie is funny, though, doesn't mean it doesn't have something to say. One by one, Mr. Toronto lists the reasons why the rest of Canada hates Toronto, and he strips away just about every myth - both positive and negative - that exists about our city, trying to arrive at a truth beneath stereotypes and marketing strategies. Although you may not find yourself surprised by all his revelations, his final discovery, and the way it manifests itself in the film's "climax," is a surprisingly touching and satisfying moment.
Let's All Hate Toronto isn't for everybody: if you're looking for a serious, exploratory documentary that asks the hard questions, you might want to check out some of the other features at the festival. Having said that, there is evidence that a fair amount of research and thought went into the cheeky film, and despite its light-hearted tone, there is a soul beneath its laughing exterior. It made me proud to live in this city, and it was nice to see somebody stand up for it and to show why it's worth standing up for. That alone, I think, is reason enough for many a Torontonian to watch it.
Let's All Hate Toronto won't change the way you think about the world, but it just might make you think differently about Toronto. At the very least, you'll get some good laughs along the way.
Let's All Hate Toronto screens again on Saturday, April 28, 6:30 PM, at The Bloor Cinema.
Image from the Hot Docs website.
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