Bruce McDonald’s new road movie is the story of two teenagers hitchhiking down the road to self-discovery in 1976 Nova Scotia — and hearing some great Canadian music along the way
Starring: Dylan Authors, Julia Sarah Stone
Directed by: Bruce McDonald
Running time: 85 minutes
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
By Jay Stone
At the end of the little Canadian movie Weirdos, the camera peers through a window of a house in Antigonish, N.S. to show a couple dancing to the old Murray McLauchlan song Down By The Henry Moore. In many ways — the song, the setting, the unassuming tone — it’s a quintessential Canadian (or Canadian film) moment, and the audience in the theatre where I saw it burst into happy applause. They seemed to be acknowledging both the nostalgia of the scene and the sweetness of the movie that preceded it, and I only wish I could have joined them.
Weirdos is a near miss of such openhearted sincerity that I’m not sure whether to review it or give it a hug and a cup of hot chocolate. It’s a coming-of-age story set in 1976, on the eve of the American bicentennial — several television sets in the film are constantly showing patriotic parades that are apparently meant to provide a subtext, or cultural contrast, to all the Maritime innocence — as a 15-year-old boy named Kit (Dylan Authors) and his pretty girlfriend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) hitchhike from Antigonish to Sydney. They’re partly running away from home and partly running toward self-discovery, and on the way they learn secrets about themselves, Kit’s family, and the earnest power of healing, mostly provided by a great soundtrack of 1970s Canadian music. Not just McLauchlan but everyone from Andy Kim (Rock Me Gently) to Anne Murray (Snowbird) help give Weirdos an emotional core.
The story itself, written by playwright Daniel MacIvor, is slight and frequently unbelievable. Kit is something of an indie film cliché — the boy learning to come to terms with his sexuality — who is both ultra-hip (he worships Andy Warhol) and totally irony-free (he carries an Andy Warhol book so he can share his enthusiasm with others.) It doesn’t help that Authors looks about five years too old for the part.
Stone, however, is delightful as the energetic, blossoming Alice, a girl who keeps pestering her boyfriend for some “goodbye sex” that he seems reluctant to provide. The two lead actors have little chemistry, even in their roles as best friends, but Stone — who has the spunky good looks of a younger Maggie Gyllenhaal — grounds the film in teenage reality.
Kit is leaving his father, a hip but conventional teacher named Dave (Allan Hawco), to live with his mother Laurie (Molly Parker, delightfully over-the-top), a bohemian artist with emotional problems. Parker gives the film a jolt of energy that it needs after a long trip, but some of the issues raised at her Sydney home seem unlikely: would someone like Alice have been unaware of the Vietnam war?
Weirdos is directed by Bruce McDonald, who has been down the road before (Highway 61). He was once the rock-and-roll bad boy of Canadian cinema, but this film shows a new maturity: an older artist learning simplicity. The movie is stripped down to its essentials and the glowing black-and-white cinematography gives it a timeless tone that helps paper over some of the cracks in its authenticity.
There are funny parts too, many courtesy of Andy Warhol. The artist (played by Rhys Bevan-John) appears as a ghostly visitor who dispenses cryptic advice (“We’re all weirdos. That’s what makes us beautiful”) and post-modern truths (“I’m just a guy in a wig.”) The best laugh, however, comes when Kit asks Alice to take his picture and she says, “I only have two left.” I remember those days. And they were nothing like this.
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