Toronto: Has Milla Jovovich arrived?

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The Weinsteins picked up the aggressively "bad" Dirty Girl this week, quietly hoping that audiences would confuse a fake John Waters movie for a real one (or else find it too tame). This means that young Juno Temple—better used in Gregg Araki's sex-heavy, perversely fun Kaboom, also at the fest—should be your next Ellen Page-slash-Emma Stone. Honestly, though, my eyes strayed to Dirty Girl 's other breakout performer, Milla Jovovich. Like Temple, she's got two films at Toronto, but unlike anyone else on the planet, she's the star of the #1 box-office draw in the world right now. Yes: I've long been a champion of Milla (stop laughing). I've wanted her to apply her obvious smarts and runway confidence to more difficult roles. Even the first Resident Evil impressed me. It's not just miniskirted zombie slaying, people. Jovovich's stony reserve, as an amnesiac and double agent, is cut from the same cloth as Buster Keaton's put-upon survivor: This is a comedy set at the end of civilization. As a film presence, Jovovich's appeal is silent-era and alien; few others could have pulled off The Fifth Element, maybe no one else. So is it wishful thinking when I say that Milla's taken those long legs and really kicked it up a notch? The evidence is compelling. In Dirty Girl, Jovovich is one of the few performers not doing some indie variation on cutesy camp. She plays Temple's exasperated single mom, desperate to find a good guy and remarkably open to the possibility of shacking up with William H. Macy's decent-hearted prig. (Jovovich also has some quiet scenes with the always-impressive Mary Steenburgen, pictured above.) Often, I truly couldn't stand the film, loaded with queer-com clichs, winking soundtrack cues (Sheena Easton's "Strut") and cringeworthy dialogue, but evidently, no one gave Milla the memo telling her she was supposed to play it stupid. The other Jovovich Toronto title—the unsettling psychological noir Stone —has the actor deftly holding her own against Robert De Niro and Edward Norton in some tricky bedroom scenes. De Niro? Norton? Macy? Not exactly summer-stock players. (Read David Fear's excellent Q&A with Norton here.) I love the idea of Milla lunging herself into these daring one-on-ones; there's a brazenness to her work in Stone that signals a real triumph to come. In a perfect world, she'd be Todd Haynes's Mildred Pierce, not Kate Winslet. Until her talents are manifestly obvious, I'll always have a new Resident Evil sequel to tide me over.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival


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