Despite the fact that the Montreal World Film Festival touts itself as the premier festival in town to discover films from remote corners of the world I also see it as an opportunity to see smaller Canadian films. Small is a way to describe director Sean Garrity’s (My Awkward Sexual Adventure, After the Ball) film, Borealis. In the past Garrity has demonstrated himself able at depicting small slices of life from Winnipeg. As such, this film has a familiar feel to it. He and lead actor/screenwriter Jonas Chernick have worked together multiple times with one of them being on the film Lucid. Chernick also starred in and wrote that screenplay that dealt with a father who was rather incompetent at parenting. Obviously this is a subject that preoccupies the two men.
This time we have the tale of Jonah (Jonas Chernick – from television’s The Border), an unemployed middle aged man whose wife committed suicide six years ago and he is still consumed with guilt over it. So racked that he has not been able to do any of the in process renovations on the house they lived in. He has managed to move on in the love department in that he has a girlfriend named Kyla (Emily Hampshire – from television’s Rookie Blue). Kyla is a put together woman whereas Jonah is a mess of a man who is addicted to gambling.
So addicted that he gets himself into huge debt. He owes underground card game runner Tubby (Kevin Pollak – The Usual Suspects, Casino), a long-time friend, nearly $100,000. Jonah has no money, nevermind $100,000, so he is in a spot of trouble. At the same time he learns that his 15-year-old daughter, Aurora (Joey King – Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Conjuring) with a degenerative eye condition has just a few more weeks before she goes completely blind.
All this comes together and Jonah decides to deal with it by fleeing. He convinces Aurora to come with him on a roadtrip to Churchill, Manitoba so they can see the Northern Lights. Aurora, who pretty much thinks her father is a loser, agrees only because she wants to go to Flin Flon to find a weed dealer, Fergus (Jake Epstein – from television’s Degrassi: The Next Generation), a friend told her about. Father and daughter set off on the road not knowing that Tubby and his henchman Brick (Clé Bennett – Barney’s Version, Urban Legend) are on their heels.
Father-daughter relationship films are few and far between with good ones being even rarer. Borealis announces itself in this sparse landscape and despite its small budget tells a compelling tale. This one also adds in a road trip background that forces the two to confront their issues and baggage. Comedy is used most frequently in addressing these issues, but there are also a couple of rather poignant moments as well. Juggling the two approaches to the storytelling is director Garrity and he shows himself a capable multitasker. Because of the comedy the emotional part of the story will kinda sneak up on you making its effect all the more impactful.
In a film like this that is almost shot like a play due to the lack of money and format of the story you really have to rely on your cast and this one is up to that challenge. Jonas Chernick has the tricky job of playing this degenerate gambler who is a terrible father though because of the story arc you have to still like him and feel like he is genuinely a good person. Joey King really is the glue that holds this story together. She does a marvelous job as a teenager who is having to pretty much take care of herself due to her loser father and deal with going completely blind. There is a natural style to her acting in that you never really feel her acting. You are drawn into what she is going through because of the realism onscreen.