I am rather harsh on the films coming from my native land. Mostly because I think we can do better. For some reason Canadians’ artistic talent does not often transfer to the big screen. Is it the scope? Is it trying to outdo the monster to the south? Is it the lack of funds? Combo of all that? Whatever it is I am often disappointed when I watch films from the True North.
Bruce McDonald is a filmmaker who has intrigued me. The guy is obviously talented and in high demand because he has worked pretty much continuously since he began his career way back in 1982. Most of his work has been in television series. He has worked on episodes of Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years, Heartland, Emily of New Moon, Queer as Folk, Bomb Girls, and Reign. As you can see the guy has remained loyal and works primarily in Canada. That is what intrigues me that he hasn’t left for the bigger paycheck in the United States. A true Canadian artist.
While his television series choices are rather mainstream he goes a complete 180 degrees when it comes to his film choices. To say that they are left of center is an understatement. From This Movie is Broken (2010) about a romance taking place at a Broken Social Scene concert to Hard Core Logo (1996) a psychologically dark tale about the reunion of a punk band to Pontypool (2008) which is about a virus infecting a small town in Ontario, McDonald operates on the fringes of the film world. He is not making films which will bring in huge audiences.
With his latest feature, which took part in TIFF last year, he continues the trend of making quirky little films. Shot entirely in black and white, Weirdos is not all it title would lead you to believe. Actually the two main characters in the film, Kit (Dylan Authors – Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Flash of Genius) and Alice (Julia Sarah Stone – The Space Between), are anything but weirdos. They are two normal teens trying to find their way in this confusing world.
Kit and Alice have a plan. It is a plan which involves fooling their parents into believing they are at each other’s house, but really hitchhiking to Sydney, Nova Scotia to live with his artistic mother (Molly Parker – from television’s House of Cards). The two 15-year-olds set out with adventure and hope in their hearts and end up taking a trip that tests the very fabric of their friendship.
Once again McDonald has succeeded in making a film that is uniquely Canadian and reminiscent of a time in the past. Lovingly filming the beautiful landscape of Nova Scotia while at the same time imbuing Weirdos with a total 1970s feel is quite the accomplishment. An added bonus is the great Canadian music from the era that populates many key moments. Everything has been thought out, every last detail, to give this film an authentic feel about it. From the language to the clothes to the cars to the music. No part is shortchanged. Even the decision to film it in black and white is note perfect. It allows for the cinematography to shine through, if that makes any sense at all.
Yes, this is basically another coming of age film, but does enough to distinguish itself from what came before it. McDonald and screenwriter Daniel MacIvor (written episodes of Republic of Doyle and Street Legal) do not indulge in cliches. It relishes in its uniqueness and does not apologize for it. As a result the characters feel real as does what they go through.
It is in the quiet moments of the film in which it is most triumphant. Does not fall into the trap of trying to fulfill the expectations of its title. In actuality, it is a film about normalcy and those who usually fall into the background in life. McDonald and MacIvor have finally given them voices and some time in the spotlight.