We’re all just a bunch of weirdos to Bruce McDonald

 Image courtesy of Shadow Shows

Review: Bruce McDonald's Weirdos

Written by Cayley James

You might ask yourself why a bike magazine is reviewing a film about two hitchhiking teens? Well: It was made by Toronto-based director, and cyclist, Bruce McDonald. And the film’s central themes of self discovery, self expression, exploration and escape are things we can really get behind here at dandyhorse. Plus, there’s a character named Beans who is seen early on riding a banana seat bicycle. That’s pretty cool.

Directed by Bruce McDonald and co-written with Daniel MacIvor, Weirdos tells the story of Kit (Dylan Authors) and his best friend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) as they hitchhike from Antigonish up to Sydney during the July 4th weekend in 1976. Kit is on the cusp of coming out of the closet and set on leaving behind his small-minded small town, and homophobic dad (Allen Hawco) to live with his charismatic, but unstable, artist mother (played like a whirling dervish by McDonald regular Molly Parker) -- a woman he idolizes, and idealizes, by regularly recounting her exploits in Toronto and the time she was photographed by Andy Warhol.

 Image courtesy of Image PR

Alice is Kit’s foyle, the realist to his dreamer, and perennially disappointed by those she loves. Of the two she longs for control and stability and is more comfortable calling bullshit than getting lost in the fantasy of what could be. However, her attempts at being cool and above it all are thwarted by her vulnerability and youth. Some moments of which are particularly heartbreaking. The two hitch rides from pot smoking teens, bugged out old dudes, and a friendly cop. There’s nothing sinister about their jailbreak style roadtrip. Everything, even the teenage debauchery, is charming.

Canadian film seems to have a soft spot for coming of age stories that grapple with sexual identity and the notion of home. Just last year saw the release of Sleeping Giant, Fire Song and Closet Monster, all of which could fit comfortably under that banner. Unlike those films, which hinge on extreme emotional and physical violence, Weirdos is one the gentlest films I have ever seen.

Rather than constantly looking inward Weirdos handles characters interiority with an awkward charm instead of histrionics. It’s also a sly criticism of Canadian identity in the shadow of American hegemony. The choice to set it on the Bicentennial weekend, with parades of stars and stripes illuminating cathode ray TV sets is a subtle dig at Canada’s ongoing uncomfortable relationship with its neighbour. All while Andy Warhol (Rhys Bevan-John), the ultimate American Dream dreamer, appears as Kit’s imaginary friend, popping up intermittently to doll out droll, shallow advice.

The film’s central questions of how you manage to balance who you are, what you want to be, and what people expect you to be, are questions that can just as easily be applied to a nation state as they are to wayfinding 15-year-olds.

McDonald and MacIvor’s efforts to not get bogged down in nostalgia serves the film well. Mcdonald’s relationship with music is well documented element to his films (hello, Hardcore Logo) and the radio hits of the day that pepper the soundtrack from Led Zeppelin, Gordie Lightfoot, and Anne Murray are immediate short hands for time and place. There may be appearances of ubiquitous stubbie bottles but there are no rose-coloured glasses.  Its crisp black-and-white photography is a tip of the hat to Goin Down the Road and I couldn't help but be reminded of the charming dramedy The New Waterford Girl. Whose lack of sentimentality is something it shares with Weirdos.

McDonald's films are similar to his commitment to continuing to collaborate and foster supportive artistic relationships in Canadian film, by challenging the narrative of collective identity and cultural memory. His films are testaments to patience and empathy and challenging the status quo.

Even if you haven’t stepped a foot farther east than Montreal Weirdos is a film that manages to resonate beyond its regional reminisces. It's worth a quick ride to TIFF this week to take in some classic CanCon.

Weirdos opens for an exclusive run at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox starting this Friday, March 17 running to March 23. http://www.tiff.net/films/weirdos/

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