by Jay Seaver, published on April 11, 2005 - 06:32:44|
There are small towns, and there are Movie Small Towns. Real small towns have three-or-four-digit populations, share a high school with a neighboring town, and the restaurant is open from five in the morning until two in the afternoon. Movie Small Towns have small populations, but also have the residents entangled in a soap-opera-like web of deception and intrigue, and nobody seems to have a job that prevents him or her from being in everyone else's business all day long.
Wilby, Nova Scotia, is clearly a Movie Small Town. Happily, it is populated by a who's who of Canadian film and television, including folks even those of us in the States will recognize. Right now, the most well-known is probably Sandra Oh; she plays Carol French, a tightly-wound real estate agent who is also helping to organize the island town's annual fair. Paul Gross plays her husband Buddy, the senior member of Wilby's two or three person police force; he's a native while she's what we New Englanders call "From Away". Buddy occasionally sneaks off with Sandra Anderson (Rebecca Jenkins), who earned her easy reputation in high school but has been away, but recently moved back to her home town to take over the less-popular café. He daughter Emily (Ellen Page) is best friends with MacKenzie Fisher (Marcella Grimaux), whose father Brent (Maury Chaykin) is the mayor. Also lurking around are Dan (James Allodi), selling his house after his wife left him, and Duck (Callum Keith Rennie), the local handyman.
The movie is written and directed by Daniel MacIvor, who writes and directs a movie every couple of years but is primarily a playwright. It's often a dangerous thing for an independent film to be made by a stage guy (MacIvor's previous movie, Past Perfect, is a case in point). After a while, a lot of those movies tend to look alike - static compositions, great character acting, and a "story" that consists of characters acting bitter and cold for reasons that aren't revealed to the audience until close to the end. Happily, MacIvor remembers to include a plot here: The last bit of public land on the island is targeted for a golf course, especially since there's a "scandal" about it being used as a gay hook-up spot, with the local paper about to publish names
Wilby is a character piece, mostly serious, but with plenty of dark comedy. Dan is on the lookout for a good place and way to end his life, but when he isn't interrupted, the spots he tends to choose to tie his noose aren't generally able to bear his weight. Buddy is none to impressed with the plans to develop the Point, and contributes sardonic comments while also seeming somewhat amused by the rather obvious conspiracy. He's happy being a small-town guy, compared to his wife and the mayor, who seem dissatisfied with the relatively pastoral life.
Not every plot thread ties into the main story, but enough does for it to be important, and not just something to give the movie an endpoint. The only thread that doesn't necessarily seem to tie in is Sandra and Emily, although that works metaphorically - Emily shouldn't be in such a hurry to lose her innocence and grow up, and neither should the town itself (it also demonstrates just who in the town is scandal-worthy and who can be counted on as a solid citzen). It's an odd construction, though - things don't all come together at the end; there's still these two pieces which overlap, but still feel somewhat separate.
Independent films often rest on their casts, and Wilby's is as good on the screen as it is on paper. Paul Gross still has the square-jawed decency that worked so well on Due South (and would have made him the natural choice for Superman had Warner gotten things in line ten years ago), but Buddy's a little worn down. "Worn down" also applies to Rebecca Jenkins's Sandra, trying not to fall into her old patterns (and keep her daughter from doing so too), but not always living up to her hopes. Ellen Page does good work as the daughter, actually looking like a young teenager, showing both the most and least confidence in Jenkins's character, and delivering a couple of the movie's best lines ("you could cook an egg on it.").
I don't know how much attention this film got in Canada, let alone the U.S. It's a good little movie, covering a lot of the same ground as many other cast-driven indies, but with more plot and a fine enough cast that it does a better job than most.
Rating: 4 out of 5