by Chris Tinkham, published on June 1, 2006|
Young Canadian actress Ellen Page seems to be everywhere as of late. She shocked audiences as a red-hooded teen vigilante in the April release Hard Candy, and last week she surfaced as mutant Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand. In Mouth to Mouth, shot before both those films, Page plays Sherry, a teenage runaway who gets recruited by SPARKStreet People Armed with Radical Knowledgea fictional communal organization that roves the streets of Europe in buses, seeking to resuscitate the lives of people living on the margins.
Eric Thai plays SPARK's persuasive ringleader, Harry, who preaches the value of intellectual defense and promises his impressionable flock a sufficient and governed life apart from the 9-to-5 capitalistic drudgery. Armed with a large supply of methadone, Harry advocates clean living and empowerment, but just as well could be building a cult to keep under his thumb. His demagoguery, which comes off as a cross between that of Tyler Durden in Fight Club and Survivors Richard Hatch, nonetheless makes an impression on Sherry, who believes she has discovered something important and perhaps revolutionary in SPARK. When Sherrys mother Laurie (Natasha Wightman) finds her after a long night of handing out missing flyers at a rave, Sherry initially is content to leave the group behind and return home. But tensions between Sherry and her mother quickly reach a familiar boiling point, and Sherry runs out of her moms car to hitch a ride with a stranger. By the time Sherry returns to SPARK, Laurie has discovered the group and already has been indoctrinated, turning Sherry's perception of radicalism topsy-turvy.
Mouth to Mouth is a strange enough film to remain absorbing almost all the way through. Director Alison Murray, who left her home when she was 15 years old, has a background in choreography, short film and music videothis is her first featureand she interjects choreographed sequences into her film with the abandon of Godard or Hal Hartley. The liveliest sequence is a rough-and-tumble pas de deux between Page and Wightman on the side of the road, with the camera panning side to side in long shot. The cast of SPARK memberswhich includes, among others, a kid and some gray-haired folksis a visually intriguing group with desolate looks about them, and the uncommon European locations, particularly a vineyard setting in Portugal, help sustain an air of unpredictability.
In the areas of traditional filmmaking, however, Mouth to Mouth occasionally leaves much to be desired. There aremoments when the dialogue and acting are stilted, particularly in the scenes between Page and Wightman (surprising, considering the ballyhoo given Page recently). Thai makes Harry convincing enough to captivate a teen looking for acceptance, but theres no early chemistry between him and Page, nor with Wightman, whose character is never fleshed out yet remains on screen mostly as a catalyst for Sherry. Some of the music choicesThe Birthday Party, Azure Rayare welcome, but in one late, dramatic scene, the score is dreadfully overbearing.
Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, Mouth to Mouth has that overused look of color saturation fused with overexposure, but some lovely, sun-drenched morning and late-afternoon shots sneak through to add earthiness to the edginess. And even though Page is hit-and-miss in the film, the camera likes her, lip pierced, head shaved or otherwise. The most striking aspect of her performance is her physicality, how she lumbers around in an oversized tee shirt and baggy shorts, likely to Murrays instruction.
Executive produced by Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan, Mouth to Mouth is, despite its rough edges, adventurous in spirit and concept, but eventually the films narrative arc buckles under the weight of inevitability.
Author rating: 5/10