By: Grace Bashall

A green brick theatre with film posters on the front glass windows.

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Emily Gagne still fondly traces her love for cinema back to her favourite childhood film, E.T. The Extraterrestrial. After thousands of rewatches, the original VHS tape was completely worn out, but the magic of E.T. and Drew Barrymore still evokes a deep sense of nostalgia for Gagne.

Today, at 34 years old, Gagne’s utter adoration for Drew Barrymore is apparent in how her face lights up when anything about the actress is mentioned. Barrymore’s charm always draws Gagne back into a constant cycle of late-night rewatches of The Wedding Singer, Never Been Kissed, and Riding in Cars with Boys with her best friend, Danita Steinberg. Never did the best friends imagine that their love for iconic women in film would manifest itself into We Really Like Her!: a Revue Cinema screening series that is a love letter to women in film.

Steinberg and Gagne’s friendship all started with their deep affinity for female-centric storytelling in film and their undying devotion for all things Meryl Streep. When the two best friends launched What About Meryl?, a podcast dedicated to their shared love of Streep’s film catalogue, they quickly came to the realization that there are only so many Streep films to talk about. The pair then considered how they could expand upon their passion for showcasing women in film. Having frequented repertory theatres in Toronto for years, they collaborated with the Royal Theatre to screen She-Devil as a promotion for the podcast.

Their efforts caught the attention of Revue Cinema, leading to the birth of We Really Like Her! The series combines all the films from Gagne and Steinberg’s childhood that were often written off as silly chick flicks, giving them a much-needed space to be appreciated. Not surprisingly, both Barrymore and Streep’s films have become a cornerstone and yearly tradition of the series.

We Really Like Her! is one of the many film programs that are independently funded, organized, and hosted by curators as fixtures in Toronto’s repertory theatre scene. Revue Cinema has long been known for embracing niches in film through series such as Silent Revue, a celebration of silent film and Dumpster Racoon, an exposé of cult classics.

We Really Like Her! aims to create a diverse and safe space for women and the LGBTQ2S+ community. Fun guests–like screenwriters, editors, directors, producers, film programmers and critics weigh in during screenings. 

Each screening opens with a speech from Steinberg and Gagne riffing off one another to embody the fun and carefree vibe of the series. Prizes, minigames, and audience members dressing up in themed costumes are all essential parts of any screening night. The audience is interactive in their quick-witted remarks and dramatic gasps during film-based trivia; they enthusiastically shoot their hands up to answer and jump out of their seats in excitement to receive their prizes.

The month of March has been titled by Gagne and Steinberg as the month of Mamma Mia, an annual tradition at the Revue Cinema. The audience cheers, dances, and sings their hearts out, dressed to the nines in their boho costumes. At a recent screening, while Gagne was entranced by the magic of ABBA, she glanced over, spotting a baby at the screening. It struck her at that moment that “Mamma Mia is the first film this baby has ever seen.” To pass the magic of Mamma Mia onto future generations was all she could ever hope for. 

Attendees eagerly embrace the opportunity to dress in campy costumes that pay homage to the evening’s featured film. It’s a spectacle of creativity and nostalgia, where attendees immerse themselves in the spirit of the movie through their attire. Expect to see a sea of glittering pink at Barbie. Meanwhile, at Josie and the Pussycats, attendees sport cat ears and retro-inspired cheetah print outfits. And without a doubt, everybody arrives in a fantastically feathered pyjama ensemble for the Slumber Party Massacre.

Rachel West, a Toronto-based film critic says inclusive theatre spaces are a core aspect of the Toronto film scene. “What Emily and Danita are doing with We Really Like Her! is focusing on a lot of those underrepresented stories and perhaps different perspectives than you would see at a first-run movie theatre.”

What makes the Toronto repertory theatre community so unique is how everybody is rooting for and supporting each other’s work to come into the spotlight. “We all love movies, we love the arts, we love supporting independent theatres, and all our local filmmakers,” West says. 

Though attendance can reach up to 200 guests, Steinberg and Gagne have created an extremely tight-knit community with many familiar faces showing up time after time. After a screening, expect to find audience members mingling and seeking out each other’s Letterboxd reviews. For the hosts, creating this space for female work to be appreciated is what their ultimate goal was.

That magic feeling was in the air again at We Really Like Her!’s April screening of Clockwatchers, a 1997 film showcasing the importance of female friendship in trudging through the dreaded 9-to-5 routine and the kookiness of corporate culture. 

Clockwatchers had a packed audience — a mix of couples, groups of friends and lone guests — who chatted and sipped drinks as they trickled into their seats. As moviegoers filed in, some took photos with film posters while others spotted regular attendees across the theatre and struck up conversations.

Sajida Ayyup, a regular attendee, says the screening series is a wholesome and welcoming space that always draws her back. At its core, the films have inspired her to consider a new perspective on women’s issues. “I am a big feminist so showing movies like these, especially in a community like Toronto pushes me to be a bigger person and sparks conversation.”

Meghaa Thakur, a second-time attendee says the screening series embraces the hidden gems of the ’80s and ’90s so it’s a perfect space for retro-film lovers.“ I was born in the wrong generation, so I will for sure be back, I am all for it.”

Alice LeBlanc, a first-time attendee shared that Clockwatchers had a special meaning for her. “It reminded me of office culture in the 90’s, it took me back to my old days working as a secretary,” LeBlanc shared. “I loved seeing a movie that portrayed women’s issues, and relationships. It didn’t shy away from the topic of abortion and that was powerful.”

When the screen faded to black, the crowd sat in silence for a moment, before erupting in applause. After audience members collected their belongings they gathered outside the theatre in a sea of multi-coloured umbrellas. Undeterred by the rain, they mingled and shared ideas about the film. Even Mother Nature couldn’t stop the buzz and excitement of a night at the Revue Cinema.