Review: Trouble In The Garden is well-intentioned but problematic

Rosamund Owen's film about a family and the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples by Canadian governments past and present feels like a stage play awkwardly translated to the screen

TROUBLE IN THE GARDEN (Rosamund Owen). 80 minutes. Opens Friday (February 15). See listing. Rating: NN

Trouble In The Garden is a movie made with the best of intentions, one assumes. But intentions aren’t enough.

Writer/director Rosamund Owen’s first feature after a long career in television and documentary filmmaking is a drama about a family torn apart by its history. But it’s a film that also grapples with the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples by Canadian governments past and present… and that’s a pretty tall order for a small movie about people in a house. 

Cara Gee (The Expanse, Empire Of Dirt) is Raven, a land-rights protestor forced to stay with Colin (Shadowhunters’ Jon Cor), the foster brother she hasn’t seen in years – as well as his very pregnant wife (Kelly Van der Burg) and their young daughter (Persephone Koty) – after he bails her out of jail. 

Relations are strained, though Raven starts to bond with the little girl, but things grow even more tense once Raven learns Colin’s parents are coming for a visit – and that Colin also happens to be the real-estate developer who owns the disputed land she’s been protesting. (There’s also one other revelation to come, and it’s exactly what you hope it won’t be.) 

Despite the best efforts of the electric Gee, whose mercurial moods and quick temper let us understand much of the baggage Raven’s carrying long before writer/director Owen lays it out in dialogue, the whole thing feels like a stage play awkwardly translated to the screen. 

And though Trouble In The Garden ends with a declaration that the film was made in collaboration and consultation with survivors of the Sixties Scoop, it still feels awfully problematic in its presentation: the decision to score the entire film with music by Indigenous artists creates a wincing disconnect at the sight of Gee, Van der Burg and Koty dancing in a circle to Buffy St. Marie’s We Are Circling.

There’s on the nose, and then there’s on the nose.

Comments (1)

  • Raven Morand December 11, 2020 09:49 AM

    I feel that as a non-Indigenous man he has no right to comment on a film that was made for Indigenous folks. Not only do I know the consultation was deep, and thorough, but we even screened this at the University with Dr. Raven Sinclair sitting on the panel (who was consulted through the whole film, and a very large part of the process). This film sparked important dialogue in my family as my father let me know that my estranged mother’s growing up was almost exactly the way Raven grew up in care as an Indigenous woman. This was not a skillfully crafted review, by any account. Anyone with some semblance of Indigenous connection, would feel the energy this film brought to forefront and understand the intricate multi-layer of it all. Do better.

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