A hitchhiking girl meets up with a cult-like group.|
by Mark Olsen, Special to The Times, published on June 2, 2006
Following a series of award-winning short films, writer and director Alison Murray's feature debut, "Mouth to Mouth," starts off solidly enough as the story of a teenage girl, Sherry (Ellen Page), who falls in with a cultish underground collective while hitchhiking around Europe, but the movie eventually loses its sense of direction.
That group, called SPARK (Street People Armed With Radical Knowledge), is driven by an enigmatic leader (Eric Thal) who has the combustible charm and persuasive charisma of a cult leader. Once Sherry's mother (Natasha Wightman) enters the picture and also falls under SPARK's dark spell, Sherry's disillusionment is complete.
With bracing music by the Stranglers and the Birthday Party, Murray's film opens strong, capturing a sense of the exotic excitement of freewheeling through Europe and the easy way a disaffected young girl might become enchanted by a cult's rhetoric and lifestyle. As the film progresses, however, Murray becomes less and less sure of where things are heading or what it is she is trying to get at, such that the last few reels feel perfunctory and unengaged. With her fondness for golden sunsets and moments of personal introspection choreographed as discrete dance numbers, Murray is going for an anguished expressionism in the same vein as "Morvern Callar" or "Lilya 4-Ever," but she never approaches those same heights and the parts aren't properly integrated into the larger dramatic whole.
Murray and her financiers have no doubt been thankful for the recently rising status of young Canadian actress Page, who since shooting "Mouth to Mouth" has gone on to the controversial "Hard Candy" and the high-profile "X-Men: The Last Stand."
Page's performance here is developmental at best, and though she shows flashes of the strong-willed, seductive decisiveness that has marked her subsequent roles, she mostly looks slightly confused, unsure of herself and under-directed.