A Light Beneath Their Feet (2015)
Dir. Valerie Weiss
A Light Beneath Their Feet sets the tone from the get-go. Beth (Madison Davenport) is a high school student taking care of her mother, Gloria (Taryn Manning). Gloria has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her meds are organized by Beth. With the groundwork in place, A Light Beneath Their Feet sets out its monorail course, unable to veer into another direction as the premise leaves a predictable, cliche path. As if hitting an outline of necessary checkmarks, the beats in the film will be familiar to anyone that has ever watched a Hallmark movie.
For a while it seems like this film lifted elements from Carrie (1976). A bullied high school girl with a delicate situation at home finds her big break by attending prom with an unlikely boy. Insert bully girl here, sad story there, tug the heartstrings and insert overbearing score here. The score for this film is flat-out obnoxious. The performances here are fine enough that the audience doesn’t need a blaring score to tell them how to feel. Show some respect for your audience, trust in your performers and perhaps this films turns out just a little bit better.
There are some positive takeaways from this film. Manning’s portrayal of a bipolar woman off her meds is eerily accurate. Manning commits to the role, never straying into hammy or overacting. Her performance is calculated, fearless and moving. Davenport does a serviceable job, while the rest of the cast gets lost in the mix. The lead performances are almost enough to rescue this film, unfortunately it’s not that interesting of a film.
Dir. David Bezmozgis
This film features a 16 year-old boy named Mark (Alex Ozerov), who agrees to hang out with his 14 year-old, soon to be cousin (through marriage), Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon). The families are of Jewish and Russian descent and live in a suburb of Toronto. Natasha is from Moscow and does not speak English. The two children explore the small town, go into the city and deal drugs like normal kids do. Mark falls in with an older boy who owns a house and supplies Mark with marijuana to sell around town.
Mark and Natasha form a bond that crosses moral ground. Natasha stumbles upon pornography on Mark’s laptop, she follows that by showing him photos of her barely wearing any clothes and a few nudes. It becomes clear that Natasha was sexually abused and exploited in Moscow. Their relationship escalates, and Mark becomes infatuated by Natasha. The dynamic of the relationship is complex. Mark is inexperienced sexually, and Natasha knows far too much about sex and how to use her sexuality amongst teenage boys and fully grown men. Ozerov and Gordon display fine performances in Natasha. Both have strong screen presence and photograph well. It’s remarkable to witness them display a range of emotions on-screen.
The major problem with this film is that the story doesn’t go anywhere intriguing after all of the pieces of the puzzle are in place. The setup is simple, the execution is far more difficult. What is writer and director David Bezmogis trying to say with this film? Are we drawing attention to child pornography? Forbidden romance? Anything significant with Jewish and Russian culture? It’s tough to nail the landing when employing an open-ended closure to a story.
Basic Human Needs (2015)
Dir. Matthew Yim
Basic Human Needs places a couple front and center for a quarter century life crisis with a possible pregnancy in the mix. Audrey (Laura Abramsen) and Miles (Matthew Yim) open the film with a funny sex scene where Miles loses the condom during orgasm. With a possible pregnancy on the horizon, the young couple (early 20s) considers all angles while planning to escape small hometown life in Saskatchewan. Audrey receives her wake-up call when she runs into a former high school friend. She lies about her profession to save embarrassment from both parties. Miles dreams of moving to Toronto with his best friend.
Basic Human Needs is a charming film because it feels genuine and the heart of the film shines through Abramsen and Yim. Yim wears many hats with the following credits: Writer, Director, Actor and Editor. The material is light and Yim displays solid comedic timing. The two leads play well off each other.
There are some smaller, quirky bit roles in the film. When some material falls short, in comes a duo of MCs to deliver some laughs. Ross Zimmerman delivers the funniest performance of the cast. Zimmerman plays the role of Steven Zeigler, high school valedictorian and he also has a crush on Audrey’s sister, Madeleine (Natalie Lazarou). Abramsen shows promise but it feels like acting when she displays darker emotions. This is a minor gripe in an otherwise entertaining film.
This is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a laugh, a slice of life and anyone who has ever reflected on where they want to be in life. Both younger and older audiences will react to the material because it’s so relatable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all involved at other Canadian film festivals in the future.