Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Guidance, writer-director-actor Pat Mills’ escapist comedy about identity and self-debasement is a fearless portrayal of insecurity and incommunicability in the 21st century. In a world run by images and slogans, it is not uncommon that someone who is different from how the media presents life or how society dictates it will choose to mask their inner qualities as a manner of fitting in. A child-star who has long been forgotten, Doug Simms’s individuality was usurped from him by the entertainment industry at a young age. Now, in his thirties, he is in denial about who he is, because he has always been told something different. He never learned how to be, he was told how to be. With motivational speech therapy, he continues to delude himself from seeing the real Doug Simms. Portrayed by the charismatic Pat Mills, Doug Simms lies through life until a stint as a guidance counselor forces him to look within.
Guidance, writer-director-actor Pat Mills’ escapist comedy about identity and self-debasement is a fearless portrayal of insecurity and incommunicability in the 21st century.
Though Doug Simms has obvious flaws—his drinking, his lying, his brutal honesty—he is quite affable. So when the children in the High School take to his non-threatening ways it comes as no surprise. In fact, it comes exactly as expected. While Guidance has a unique style, primarily cultivated by Pat Mills’ inventive storytelling and voice over kitsch, the film develops rather predictably. From the beginning, one recognizes that Pat Mills will be a good counselor, in his own way. When he meets the children, one knows he will help at least one of them, somehow. When Jabrielle’s aunt speaks to him on the phone, one knows the film will end with Doug saving the day by sending her to Winnipeg. However, despite how predictable or conventional the film may be, it is thoroughly entertaining and the isolated events can be quite surprising and even shocking.
A major thread within the film is Doug Simms’ denial of his sexual identity. Until the end he denies his interest in men. This attribute is ultimately at the core of all Doug’s behavioral issues. As such, it makes for much physical comedy—Pat Simms portrays Doug as a rather flamboyant gay man. Simms, with his two tone hairstyle, is often seen biting his nails, drinking shots, making funny gestures then eye-rolling the forthcoming awkward moment. Amongst the physical comedy and sexual tension is, of course, innuendo. For example, in the scene after Doug gets a teen girl drunk to medicate her shyness, the same girl flirts with a dumb boy in class. His clay mold, in the shape of an erect penis, points directly at her. When she says she’s having difficulty, he responds that “his is hard”. Working on her mold, she asks him to get it wet.
This brazen form of comedy is in full drive throughout the film, even so for dramatic moments. A pathological liar about himself, Doug is constantly berating others by telling them the honest truth. If someone’s ugly, he makes a face and tells them. If he doesn’t like someone, he makes a face and tells them. The film is chalk full of Doug Simms making funny faces and gestures while berating others and self-denying his own issues. The film surely appeals to homosexuals as it has the same kind of tone of comedy that queer culture often employs. The jokes are a bit gossipy and a bit harsh. It’s quite funny, but at times this becomes a bit scant on depth. A shallow sense of humour is droll but not especially humorous.
Guidance uses a great deal of hyperbole in the story. It is a fiction that doesn’t try to be anything else. Some of the events are ridiculous, but it doesn’t matter; a sense of realism is not on the agenda…
Guidance uses a great deal of hyperbole in the story. It is a fiction that doesn’t try to be anything else. Some of the events are ridiculous, but it doesn’t matter; a sense of realism is not on the agenda and this comes off quite clear when Doug and a young black student begin a chain of tanning salon robberies. When drama surmounts, Doug is eventually forced to confess the truth and in doing so he discovers himself, at least a little bit. He’s begun a change, and he accepts this. While sitting in the backseat of a police car with his head out the window, appearing like an naïve gay puppy, his mantra concludes. He decides that it’s okay to give truthful advice instead of meaningless optimism. He decides that it’s okay for him to be Doug Simms. The story of a lost gay man who finds himself through alcoholism, identity fraud, and kidnapping, Guidance is a charming yet flawed escapist feature that’s worth a watch just for the fun ride it presents.
The story of a lost gay man who finds himself through alcoholism, identity fraud, and kidnapping, Guidance is a charming yet flawed escapist feature that’s worth a watch just for the fun ride it presents.