Paul Gross and Rebecca Jenkins
I'm a huge admirer of Daniel MacIvor's plays (go see A Beautiful View before it closes this weekend at the Tarragon), but not so fond of his movies, especially his features. Why is that? Cinematheque's series Pasts Imperfect: The Films Of Daniel MacIvor comes out this week, so I thought I'd take another look.
The biggest surprises come from MacIvor's shorts. I remember seeing them when they first hit the festival circuit, and their freshness remains intact. His early (1993) two-minute short, Wake Up, Jerk Off, Etc., is a manic recitation of the queer urban narrator's life ("Wake up, jerk off, clean up, eat cheese," and so on) that cleverly sums up his monotony and alienation - but with a knowing wink.
MacIvor's voice-over has a touch of boredom and frustration, a "let's get this over with" quality, while the images we see playfully support what we're hearing, teasing us with more and more revelations. The enigmatic ending suggests a romantic subtext that's both touching and disturbing.
His 1997 short Permission is a longer, more conventional work, but it's beautifully observed. James Allodi plays a suburban dad whose son (Luca Perlman) would rather play with dolls and his bike's colourful handlebar streamers than join the local baseball league.
The script is honest and very funny, especially in parodying suburban parents discussing their kids' sports. (It doesn't hurt that these parents are played, in a terrifically engaging scene, by a who's who of the Toronto theatre scene, including James O'Reilly, Daniel Brooks, Jonathan Wilson and Caroline Gillis).
Despite a truncated ending, Permission's a queer classic and obvious precursor to Laurie Lynd's recent feature Breakfast With Scot.
Speaking of Lynd, he directed the MacIvor-written 1992 short The Fairy Who Didn't Want To Be A Fairy Anymore, which also gets a screening. The Genie Award winning film is as much fun as ever. In a fairytale universe shot through with a touch of Expressionist menace, a sadsack fairy (MacIvor), tired of being mocked and feared, asks to get his wings clipped.
It's a smart and sexy allegory about internalized homophobia that is gorgeous to watch - and hear. (Musicians Holly Cole and Micah Barnes appear in a scene charged with Rocky Horror Show-esque camp.) As a bonus, the piece is bookended by whimsical scenes featuring everyone's favourite horror clowns, Mump & Smoot.
MacIvor's recent onscreen forays have been terrific. In movies, he's especially good at playing angry, neurotic types. Look at his bearded conservative dad in the recent film Growing Op; he stole every scene he was in. He could easily play a nasty villain in a big budget action pic, an Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons type someone who holds people hostage while things blow up.
Certainly that angry mode is more convincing in his performance in Past Perfect (2002), his feature directing debut. He plays a linguistics prof who sits next to Rebecca Jenkins' gardening expert on a flight from Halifax to Vancouver.
The two have just suffered breakups and initially can't stand each other. But soon it becomes clear that they're also a couple. The film plays with time and chronology, shuttling forward to show scenes from their disintegrating relationship, while returning to the plane so we see them warming up to each other.
Variations on this gimmick have been done before, but the emotional payoffs aren't worth waiting for here. The film's saving grace, besides Richard Feren's too-little-heard score, are a creepy cameo by Maury Chaykin as a flirtatious radio DJ and Jenkins, whose husky voice, heavy-lidded eyes and access to emotion work beautifully on a big screen.
She's one of the only good things about MacIvor's later feature, Wilby Wonderful (2004), which never finds the right tone for its premise. Jenkins plays a single mom (to a very young Ellen Page) who's looking to start over in her small East Coast town, which is currently in the midst of a mysterious scandal involving gay men, public sex and drugs.
The film's a mess, with no chemistry at all between Sandra Oh, as a harried real estate agent, and her policeman husband, Paul Gross, who looks lost throughout. The queer subplot, featuring a woefully underused James Allodi and a seemingly mentally-challenged Callum Keith Rennie, comes across as earnest and awkward.
The emotional centre of the film belongs to Jenkins and Page, the one achingly touching as a woman trying to make sure her daughter doesn't make the same mistakes she did, the other longing for freedom but unsure how to get it.
The series also includes the excellent MacIvor-scripted film Whole New Thing, Lynd's feature adaptation of the play House and a screening of John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday, a favourite of MacIvor's for its decades-ahead-of-its-time look at sexuality.