Made in Canada Review: Picture Day (2013)

1055

pictureday_01


Cast: , ,
Director: Kate Melville
Country: Canada
Genre: Comedy | Drama
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: Picture Day opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox May 24th including an in-person intro and Q&A by the filmmaker and cast members at the 7:30pm screenings on Friday May 24th and Monday May 27th. For more information on Picture Day as well as additional TIFF releases visit TIFF.net and follow TIFF on Twitter @TIFF_NET.

Picture Day (2013) is the feature writing and directing debut of Kate Melville and it’s really pretty good.  It tells the story of Claire (Tatiana Maslany) who is repeating her senior year of high school.  She frequently skips class and arrives late.  She meets Jim (Steven McCarthy) who is the frontman for a band she likes.  She goes home with him and the next morning when she tells him she has to get to school for math class, he seems unphased by this leading one to think he either has absolute faith that she is over 18 or doesn’t care.  She makes it to school and eventually runs into Henry (Spencer Van Wyck), a boy she used to babysit for while he’s ducking out of gym and smoking pot (which he grew himself, in his room.  We learn from his mother later that he won a science fair with hydroponics).  He’s new to the school after wanting to be taken out of private school and is having difficulty making friends.  Clair decide to take Henry under her wing and help him stand out and get laid (friends aren’t her strong suit either, so she coaches him in the only thing she really knows).  She dyes his hair blue, gets him black clothes and creates a mystique about him, saying he got kicked out of his school by dealing LSD.

A film like this, sort of a coming of age picture, could have easily gone wrong.  Melville could have gone in the direction of broad comedy, which would have undermined the entire endeavor.  She wisely sidesteps that entirely by building her characters into people we care for.

This attracts a girl to him, which he kind of flubs.  Claire then says he tried to commit suicide, bringing the girl back to him, if only for drugs (which he makes in his laundry room…Henry is very smart).  Meanwhile, Claire continues to develop her relationship with Jim and it is turning out to be an actual relationship.

Henry also has had an…obsession about Claire.  He keeps everything he can of hers in a box, clearly labeled in baggies.  It’s not exactly love, it’s more OCD.  Such a box would appear creepy and difficult to explain if Claire should ever see it, which she does later in the film.

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 10.52.07 AM

A film like this, sort of a coming of age picture, could have easily gone wrong.  Melville could have gone in the direction of broad comedy, which would have undermined the entire endeavor.  She wisely sidesteps that entirely by building her characters into people we care for.  All three leads are relatable figures, none of them caricatures.  There are no personality molds in the film; each character is unique to the film.  That is incomparably refreshing considering what is normally offered in a film like this.  It’s clear that Melville understands and loves her characters, and that’s why she treats them with the respect they are due.

Apart from her writing, Melville makes some very good directorial choices as well.  There is one shot in particular that struck me.  Claire has broken up with Jim and walked out on Henry after finding the box.  She’s walking down the street listening to her omnipresent headphones.  The camera is handheld in front of her, rocking back and forth not smooth at all.  This stuck out because the camera is smooth for the rest of the picture, just here when Claire is at her most vulnerable and her whole world has been turned upside down does the camera come loose from its moorings and show us how Claire is feeling: unsteady.  Some may call this heavy handed, but I thought it was the right decision for the shot.

There is a lot to be said for the actors as well.  Maslany brings an easiness to Claire that makes her believable.  Sure, she’s got a reputation but Maslany brings heart to a character that could have been very flat.  She makes sure that Claire has weak points in her armor and that they show, even briefly.  These weaknesses and her willingness to accept them lets Claire grow and become a better person by the end of the film.  She’s more willing to be her age and stop rushing to grow up.

All three leads are relatable figures, none of them caricatures.  There are no personality molds in the film; each character is unique to the film.  That is incomparably refreshing considering what is normally offered in a film like this.  It’s clear that Melville understands and loves her characters, and that’s why she treats them with the respect they are due.

Wyck also brings a quiet believability to his role of Henry.  He plays awkward in a realistic way, not over the top.  He’s shy, due to extreme hover-parenting, and he just doesn’t know what to say to people.  The only person he can speak to is Claire, and even then he cannot be completely open until near the end.  Wyck brings a genuine quality to the role that allows Henry to grow in much the same way Claire does, but from a different place.  He suffers from over parenting where she suffers from under parenting.

McCarthy is naturalistic as Jim, possibly because McCarthy is really a frontman for a Toronto-based band, the Elastocitizens.  This isn’t his first acting gig, but it appears to be his biggest role.  He lets Jim behave as one would expect a 33 year old (he calls this his Jesus year) when in a relationship with an 18/19 year old.  He’s excited, of course, that a girl that young would want to be with him and he takes advantage of it until she becomes an inconvenience.  He then throws her away for an older woman who is also a fan.  He lets Jim have the weaknesses one would expect a leader of a up and coming but still not quite there band would toward his fans.  He is flattered by people who like his band and susceptible to their charms because he feels it’s what stardom is.

Picture Day succeeds on a variety of levels because of a screenplay that honestly depicts real people, direction that knows when to step in and when to let the actors do the lifting and a cast that never over-plays their roles.  Each character evolves naturally from Claire’s reaching out so she does not end up alone and depressed like her mother.  She’s proud when she helps an awkward teen start to be more assured and is devastated when she cannot bring a grown man out of his adolescence.    Melville has crafted a debut that achieves many things and left me smiling at the end.

[notification type=”star”]80/100 ~ GREAT. Picture Day succeeds on a variety of levels because of a screenplay that honestly depicts real people, direction that knows when to step in and when to let the actors do the lifting and a cast that never over-plays their roles.[/notification]

Share.

About Author

I believe film occupies a rare place as art, entertainment, historical records and pure joy. I love all films, good and bad, from every time period with an affinity to Classical Hollywood in general, but samurai, sci-fi and noir specifically. My BA is in Film Studies from Pitt and my MA is in Education. My goal is to be able to ignite a love of film in others that is similar to my own.