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Small Fears and Ambitions

by Darren Barefoot, published on October 11, 2004 - 4:00pm

Wilby Wonderful is a dark comedy set on an island set off the east coast of Canada. We meet the townsfolk of Wilby on the eve of a scandal that threatens to stain their idyllic island life. They’re familiar archetypes—the upstanding town sheriff, the hot-to-trot older woman from the mainland, the horny teenager, the strong, silent handyman, the upwardly-mobile real estate agent—but we are often surprised by their non-archetypal behaviour. They wrestle with ordinary problems, mostly, and seek a new, precarious balance in their tiny community.

Watching this ensemble cast is like meeting old friends. It is a who’s-who of Canada’s finest actors—Paul Gross, Sandra Oh, Callum Keith Rennie, Maury Chaykin, Rebecca Jenkins, James Allodi and Ellen Page. Add Sarah Polley and Molly Parker, and you’d have an all-star cast of those-who-have-eschewed-Hollywood (Ms. Polley being the occasional, regrettable exception). Like so many Canadian films, Wilby Wonderful is an extremely quiet film. Yet, they are all such fine, humble performers they manage the minimal dialogue and lingering shots with ease.

The film is written and directed by Daniel MacIvor, one of Canada’s premier playwrights. His plays are often flights of fancy, surreal affairs that can leave your head spinning with ideas. This film, like his previous work on Marion Bridge, are much simpler, telling small-town stories of love and loneliness. He manages each relationship masterfully, relying upon the actors’ skills instead of overwriting intimate scenes.

The instrumental music for the film is composed by Cowboy Junkies’ songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins. It matches the sparseness and modesty of the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, in what seems like a transparent attempt to produce a saleable soundtrack, several mediocre pop songs have been inserted into the incidental music. The result is conspicuous—the worst sin that movie music can commit.

By all accounts, it’s extremely difficult to produce a major Canadian film. The list of developers and funders for Wilby Wonderful runs to eleven government, non-profit and private organizations. This struggle is no doubt behind the kind of films we make—small, quiet movies set often against a daunting landscape. Marion Bridge, New Waterford Girl, The Sweet Hereafter, My Life Without Me—we’re experts at depicting small fears and ambitions. Wilby Wonderful is an excellent movie, but I wish Canadian films could aim a little higher.

It comes down to money, though, and the mile-high gelatinous cube that is Hollywood. The cast of Wilby Wonderful is exceptional. It’s a pity that if I surveyed people on the street, maybe three in ten would know who they were. They’d be able to describe Angelina Jolie’s or Lindsay Lohan’s filmography verbatim, but have they seen a movie by their countrymen lately? Have they seen themselves up there on the screen?

Source: www.urbanvancouver.com