In past years covering TIFF, I've generally avoided the parties. There are a few reasons for this.
First, I am generally contemptuous (or at least wary) of celebrity and everything it connotes, and really don't care if I am, technically, standing in the same room as George Clooney or Susan Sarandon or Pete Postlethwaite or whoever. Second, as a working journalist, parties have previously served a purely utilitarian function, providing free food and booze that I can suck back, hunched over a tiny cocktail napkin, wearing a knapsack like a cartoon turtle. I also generally try to avoid any social event where I'd have to wear much more than jeans and a t-shirt.
But in the spirit of experiencing new things, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, wearing pants that aren't stained with mustard, etc., I accepted an invitation to the cocktail party celebrating the premiere of Ridley Scott's The Martian, starring Matt Damon as a NASA botanist accidentally left behind on the Red Planet.
The movie itself is a fairly hollow crowd-pleaser, workshopped to feel massively appealing — funny enough, tense enough, propelled by Drew Goddard's glib, Sorkin-lite dialogue. It's fine. Is it as good as Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars, in which Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen's slow dance in Zero Gs to Van Halen's Dance the Night Away? No. Of course it isn't. But then, what is?
Anyway. In The Martian, Damon's character is forced to subsist on NASA rations and potatoes he grows on Mars. So at the big kickoff cocktail soiree at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts on Queen Street, potatoes were a featured item. There were vases filed with potatoes. And there was even a mashed potato bar, which is sort of like an omelette bar, except it's just guys in chef's whites slinging stuff into whipped starch.
At one point I was offered a cocktail glass filled with mashed potatoes, lobster and caviar. Like one of the catering staff came up to me and said, straight-faced, no joke, "Care for some mashed potatoes with lobster and caviar?" To which I obviously replied that, yes, yes I would care for some, before turning inward and wondering, "Is this how the wealthy eat?"
There's something hilarious — and, maybe, noxious — about taking a basic, foundational foodstuff like the potato and then topping it with expensive crustacean meat and fish eggs. It's like wrapping a Tic-Tac in gold leaf or putting a top hat on a cheeseburger. They also had sashimi-grade tuna served in tiny ice cream cones and deconstructed Greek salad served kebab-style. Is this real food? It seems like the stuff some dandyish intergalactic emperor would eat in a Wachowskis movie.
Still, it was fun, in a way, marvelling at the modest decadence and nudging my friend every time I saw an ostensibly famous person and proclaiming, "Look! A star and/or celeb!" and generally just repeating the words "stars and celebs" over and over in my head, like a mantra, something to ballast me into the experience of being, technically, in the same room as Ridley Scott and Donald Glover and Jessica Chastain (though no sight of Damon himself).
Was it worth wiggling into a suit jacket and scandalously tight dress pants? Of course not. But then, what is?