Tuesday, 21 May 2013

PICTURE DAY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canuck Feature Length After-School Special squeaks by (barely) with a passing grade thanks to its winning leads (who wrestle valiantly with a humdrum script and barely-by-the-numbers direction).

Picture Day (2012) **
Dir. Kate Melville
Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Henry Van Wyck, Steven McCarthy, Mark Debonis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

So you look like you're at least 25-years-old, but you're really 18 or 19 and though you're incredibly bright and funny, the public school system is holding you back from graduating so you can pass Physical Education - a public school system that in the real world will do everything in its power NOT to fail anyone, much less hold someone back for being slightly rebellious, a bit lazy, but genuinely on the ball.

Now, if I'm going to buy any of this in a movie, the proceedings better be so damn good I don't have time to think about nits to pick while I'm watching it. Alas, the movie gave me plenty of time to think. Hell, I've even got kinks in my back to prove it from assuming the pose of Auguste Rodin's famed bronze sculpture whilst Picture Day unspooled before my eyes. I try to reserve this position for time spent on the throne (that counts), but when I watch movies like this I might as well be perched on the porcelain (if you follow my drift, as it were).

Tatiana Maslany plays Claire, the aforementioned 18 or 19-year-old who looks about 25. Let's accept the improbability of her academic standing. Let's accept the movie's longueurs. Let's pretend we're not bored out of our skulls during any number of moments when we're forced to listen to sub-par "indie" music on the soundtrack while very little goes on visually before us - save perhaps for the scenes in inexplicably packed clubs where utterly dreadful pseudo-art-funk types play their tunes before wildly enthusiastic crowds of young folk while the horrendous lead singer (Steven McCarthy), painted in some ludicrous ghoul-like makeup, oozes about the stage like some bargain basement Lizard King.

Now, seeing as the audience (in the film, not the theatre you'll be watching this in) are grooving on this music, I'd assume we're watching a Lars Von Trier movies since anyone who could even remotely begin to enjoy this music must surely be of very little brain. But no, this is not Lars Von Trier. Last time I checked, he didn't make After School Specials. Besides, one of the enthralled audience members in the picture is Claire and she's definitely not a few bricks shy of a load (at least so the movie tells us).

That said, one's got to wonder about the character's state of mind since she clearly likes the treacle purporting to be music and even more felchingly (yes, you read that correctly), she's quite enamoured with the bodily charms of the lead singer as she ogles him lasciviously in the washroom.


At school, she's quite the Holy Terror. She skips classes. She's a tad mouthy. She's into leather. Horrors. When she's in school at all, she encounters a goofy freshman (Henry Vsn Wyck) that she actually used to babysit. Feeling sorry for him, she coaches him how to be cool and get chicks. Even still, he seems to have a thing for Claire. Not that she's what you'd call a MILF, but she is an 18 or 19-year-old who looks at least 25. Hmmm. Doing the math on this, I guess she could be a MILF.

Between coaching our freshie and boning the loser musician, we learn than her single parent Mom is in quite a funk, so perhaps this is reason enough for Claire to avoid growing up. Eventually, the meandering of the film's narrative reaches quite a head and bursts like an infected cyst.

Yes, Claire learns something.

Seriously, if the two leads, Maslany and Van Wyck weren't as winning as they are, I suspect my tolerance levels would not have been so tempered. Van Wyck has a pleasing, funny presence and I look forward to seeing him in a real comedy. Maslany has "star" written all over her. The camera loves her and she even makes most of the meant-to-be-funny dialogue vaguely amusing. Some day, I will see her in a real movie - perhaps something American (preferably a studio picture and not some loathsome fake indie).

It's also worth mentioning that Picture Day features a terrific supporting performance from Mark Debonis as a genuinely hilarious character who works as a bingo hall caller. (If the writing throughout had been up to this character's hilarity level for the entire movie, I might have been convulsing with yucks from beginning to end instead of just during his scenes.)

This is, overall, a pretty woeful teen comedy - the worst kind, actually, as it's trying very hard to be "different". Unfortunately, movies don't get points for trying hard, especially when we can actually see it labouring so heavily to be off the well-trodden path. Worst of all, I kept coming back to the same conclusion - the movie felt like I was watching an After School Special. They don't make those anymore, thank Christ, but I still wracked my brain while sitting through the picture as to why it felt like some bourgeois middle of the road TV movie pretending to be cutting edge.

As my readers know, I refuse to read any reviews or puff pieces or even watch trailers before I see movies - I like to be fresh as a daisy when I sit alone in the dark. (Unlike Roth's Portnoy, I try to perfume my Mounds wrappers.) All I knew is that it was Canadian, a comedy, featured a stellar leading lady and that some people (who probably should know better) were under the impression that it was good.

So, armed as I was with a relatively blank mind (yeah, feel free to take a cheap shot on that one - I've had plenty opportunity to volley my fair share of those in this piece), I couldn't help but let out a guffaw or two whilst slapping my knee after seeing the movie and deigning to read some of the P.R. bumph.

Why the mirth?

Because while I watched the movie, I eventually shoved the notion of an After School Special out of my mind and concluded that I was watching an episode of Degrassi. Lo and behold, it turns out that the writer and director of Picture Day has a myriad of television writing credits - Degrassi among them.

Well, gosh durn it, this fella be fit t'be tied!

I've seen a lot worse than this movie - especially in Canada. Picture Day certainly doesn't deserve an F or even a D, but it barely squeaks by with a C- (or C, to be charitable). And once again, I have suffered through a feature film that feels like a longer version of a TV show and I especially hate going to the movies to watch television.

Luckily, I had a nice palate cleanser after seeing this one and popped my Blu-Ray of Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe's Fast Times at Ridgemont High on. Phew! Thank Heaven for Tender Mercies!

"Picture Day" is in limited theatrical release including a run at TIFF Bell Lightbox before it winds up on - you guessed it - TV.