by Jen Johans, published on September 25, 2009|
Having seen the risk-taking Ellen Page prior to Juno in various Canadian productions including the Film Movement selections Marion Bridge, Wilby Wonderful and the USA release of the cult revenge shocker Hard Candy, when it came time to screen this title originally produced in 2003, I wasn't sure what to expect. Obviously post-Juno, everyone ascertained that she could definitely act but her choices in material have been peculiar to say the least to the point that when I read that a genuine family feature starring Page was heading to DVD, I immediately accepted without reading another word.
And although she's far from happy-go-lucky, in this picture I was struck by Page's natural ability to adapt to material as a refreshingly unaffected teen playing a refreshingly unaffected teen. A far cry from the subject matter of Bridge, Wilby, Candy, The Tracey Fragments and even Juno-- in this wholesome family-friendly Canadian production originally broadcast on Cable TV's Animal Planet channel-- Page plays a fourteen year old New York City girl still reeling from the death of her mother one year earlier.
Releasing in time for not only the future release of Page's latest turn in Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It but also Halloween, the work that's been repackaged complete with a catchier title than the K-6 reading material sounding Mrs. Ashboro's Cat hits DVD shelves this week courtesy of Barnholtz Entertainment and North American Motion Pictures. Yet despite the memorable moniker of Ghost Cat, the film is a bit tricky to sum up so it may have been much easier to just say Mrs. Ashboro's Cat since it centers on the dead cat of the dead Ashboro whom Page sees throughout the film.
Solid production values and a fine ensemble cast try to enliven the sluggishly paced supernatural mystery that finds Page's Natalie and her author father relocating to the Canadian small community where her mother was born and raised. While her skeptical ghost debunking dad spends his time researching material for his book on scientific and logical reasoning for unexplainable phenomena, Natalie finds herself in the middle of a thematically similar situation when she's haunted by visions of a deceased cat. Yet far from being like Pet Sematary, Natalie realizes that the ghost cat Margaret is trying to communicate with her to carry on the wishes of her former owner who'd passed away one day before her devoted cat did the same (sort of like an elderly couple you read about in the paper who perish out of a broken, lonely heart).
Although nobody believes Natalie's vision of the cat save for two new male friends (including one romantic interest), she's a serious young girl who trusts her convictions and connection with the animal she'd initially encountered around the same time as she'd met the now deceased Mrs. Ashboro upon their arrival. And since her first impressions of both coincided with meeting the woman's greedy nephew who planned to sell her home out from underneath Ashboro without her knowledge and send her to a retirement home, Natalie is determined to find out exactly what's going on.
The handling of the material tries to go for a light ghost story aura but remains serious and largely hapless throughout where Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew and/or Kit Kittredge humor and whimsy would've no doubt made it all the more enjoyable as well as help engage us with the admittedly dubious set-up. Still, despite it's shortcomings, it's a benign time waster. Moreover, just as her maturity seemed apparently instinctual in Juno, Page-- almost like a young Jodie Foster (minus the humor of Freaky Friday)-- manages to fully inhabit the role. And in this regard, we never doubt her vision, even if we wish the script would've done a bit more to lighten up the tone since the backdrop of death and unfinished business needed it sorely to make it a bit more appealing to the pre-Twilight demographic.
Overall, the film is much better than I expected it would be as the type of early piece of work that haunts celebrities after they strike Oscar nominated gold or ample entertainment headline buzz. Nonetheless it's a still a lukewarm hybrid of a family animal ghost story that would probably only interest devotees of the likable Ellen Page who, much like Freaky Friday's Foster or Twilight's Kristen Stewart had done some truly impressive work (even in unimpressive projects) before flying onto our radar in Juno.