Unfortunately, his features aren't as strong as his shorts|
by Glenn Sumi, published on May 21, 2009 at 12:26 AM
Im a huge admirer of Daniel MacIvors plays (go see A Beautiful View before it closes this weekend at the Tarragon), but not so fond of his movies, especially his features. Why is that? Cinematheques series Pasts Imperfect: The Films Of Daniel MacIvor comes out this week, so I thought Id take another look.
The biggest surprises come from MacIvors shorts. I remember seeing them when they first hit the festival circuit, and their freshness remains intact. His early (1993) two-minute short, Wake Up, Jerk Off, Etc., is a manic recitation of the queer urban narrators life (Wake up, jerk off, clean up, eat cheese, and so on) that cleverly sums up his monotony and alienation - but with a knowing wink.
MacIvors voice-over has a touch of boredom and frustration, a lets get this over with quality, while the images we see playfully support what were hearing, teasing us with more and more revelations. The enigmatic ending suggests a romantic subtext thats both touching and disturbing.
His 1997 short Permission is a longer, more conventional work, but its beautifully observed. James Allodi plays a suburban dad whose son (Luca Perlman) would rather play with dolls and his bikes colourful handlebar streamers than join the local baseball league.
The script is honest and very funny, especially in parodying suburban parents discussing their kids sports. (It doesnt hurt that these parents are played, in a terrifically engaging scene, by a whos who of the Toronto theatre scene, including James OReilly, Daniel Brooks, Jonathan Wilson and Caroline Gillis).
Despite a truncated ending, Permissions a queer classic and obvious precursor to Laurie Lynds recent feature Breakfast With Scot.
Speaking of Lynd, he directed the MacIvor-written 1992 short The Fairy Who Didnt Want To Be A Fairy Anymore, which also gets a screening. The Genie Award winning film is as much fun as ever. In a fairytale universe shot through with a touch of Expressionist menace, a sadsack fairy (MacIvor), tired of being mocked and feared, asks to get his wings clipped.
Its a smart and sexy allegory about internalized homophobia that is gorgeous to watch and hear. (Musicians Holly Cole and Micah Barnes appear in a scene charged with Rocky Horror Show-esque camp.) As a bonus, the piece is bookended by whimsical scenes featuring everyones favourite horror clowns, Mump & Smoot.
MacIvors recent onscreen forays have been terrific. In movies, hes especially good at playing angry, neurotic types. Look at his bearded conservative dad in the recent film Growing Op; he stole every scene he was in. He could easily play a nasty villain in a big budget action pic, an Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons type someone who holds people hostage while things blow up.
Certainly that angry mode is more convincing in his performance in Past Perfect (2002), his feature directing debut. He plays a linguistics prof who sits next to Rebecca Jenkins gardening expert on a flight from Halifax to Vancouver.
The two have just suffered breakups and initially cant stand each other. But soon it becomes clear that theyre also a couple. The film plays with time and chronology, shuttling forward to show scenes from their disintegrating relationship, while returning to the plane so we see them warming up to each other.
Variations on this gimmick have been done before, but the emotional payoffs arent worth waiting for here. The films saving grace, besides Richard Ferens too-little-heard score, are a creepy cameo by Maury Chaykin as a flirtatious radio DJ and Jenkins, whose husky voice, heavy-lidded eyes and access to emotion work beautifully on a big screen.
Shes one of the only good things about MacIvors later feature, Wilby Wonderful (2004), which never finds the right tone for its premise. Jenkins plays a single mom (to a very young Ellen Page) whos looking to start over in her small East Coast town, which is currently in the midst of a mysterious scandal involving gay men, public sex and drugs.
The films a mess, with no chemistry at all between Sandra Oh, as a harried real estate agent, and her policeman husband, Paul Gross, who looks lost throughout. The queer subplot, featuring a woefully underused James Allodi and a seemingly mentally-challenged Callum Keith Rennie, comes across as earnest and awkward.
The emotional centre of the film belongs to Jenkins and Page, the one achingly touching as a woman trying to make sure her daughter doesnt make the same mistakes she did, the other longing for freedom but unsure how to get it.
The series also includes the excellent MacIvor-scripted film Whole New Thing, Lynds feature adaptation of the play House and a screening of John Schlesingers Sunday Bloody Sunday, a favourite of MacIvors for its decades-ahead-of-its-time look at sexuality.