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Toronto 2015: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney on gender switches and 'butt doubles'

Toronto 2015: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney on gender switches and 'butt doubles'
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of "Our Brand Is Crisis." (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Following the world premiere of "Our Brand Is Crisis" at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and the rest of the cast and filmmakers took to the stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre and answered questions in a session that careened in tone almost as wildly as the movie itself.

Among the topics discussed: South American elections, Hollywood sexism, hair-root grow out and whether Bullock (who has a mooning scene in the movie) could ever use Clooney as a "butt double." ("George is a lot less hairy down there," Bullock says. "Baby bottom. Versus what I've got down there, which is a Chia Pet.")

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"Our Brand Is Crisis" offers a fictionalized take on Rachel Boynton's 2005 documentary about political strategist James Carville's foray into the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Bullock plays "Calamity" Jane Bodine, a jaded political campaign consultant brought in to engineer a turnaround. The leader in the polls just happens to be managed by Jane's longtime nemesis, a master manipulator played by Billy Bob Thornton.

Clooney, who produces with partner Grant Heslov, originally planned to play Bullock's part. But other projects apparently intervened, and Peter Straughan's screenplay sat for nearly eight years until Bullock called, asking if they'd consider switching the role's gender.

"There's a lot more out there if people just started thinking," Clooney says, talking about how women could — and should — play more protagonists in films if producers would sign off on such switches.

Director David Gordon Green introduced the movie as a "healthy smoothie," combining "heart and humor" with a topical story that "means something."

Early reviews, though, indicate that the blender may have short-circuited. Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr called "Brand" a "dreadful mess," the first "disaster" of the Toronto film festival. Variety editor Ramin Setoodeh called it " 'Miss Congeniality 3' set in Bolivia."

"Brand" does teeter unsteadily between manic comedy (mooning!), political satire and an earnest, late-in-the-game injection of serious soul-searching. Political movies have long struggled at the box office, which may explain why "Brand" spent so many years tucked away in a drawer. It doesn't help that it never quite finds a way to make you care about the outcome of the Bolivian election itself.

Arriving in theaters Oct. 30, "Brand" will need a decent commercial launch in order to propel Bullock into any sort of awards season conversation. If it does manage to gain Oscar traction, it will be a comeback story to rival the one told in the film.

Follow @glennwhipp for more Toronto International Film Festival coverage.

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