‘Menorca’ is a gender swap on the “midlife existential crisis of bad behavior” dramedy genre (hey, not a big genre but it exists). Finally, we get to see a soccer mom go all ‘American Beauty’ or whatever. It’s a clever idea with some strong performances and fantastic visuals, but also proof that sometimes a little likability and redemption in troublesome protagonists goes a long way.
Tammy Gillis plays Claire, a hedonistic soccer mom who couldn’t be less thrilled with her lot in life. Oh sure, she loves her son, but she also has her husband named “fucktard” in her phone. The home life isn’t exactly going great. One day, between rounds of day-drinking through motherly tasks and a whole lotta sarcastically bitter inner monologuing, Claire steals a fellow mom’s van, picks up a hottie dickhead hitchhiker, bangs him senseless in a motel, and then wakes up the next day to face the consequences. Her family says they’re tired of the nonsense and don’t want her back. So she flies off to Spain, joins a strip club, makes a friend, and yadda yadda yadda slowly finds herself.
‘Menorica’ has some decent ideas at its core and Claire is a pretty strong character. She’s so full of loathing for everything that she barely realizes that she actually hates herself the most until the very end of this long and lonely journey. Tammy Gillis is excellent in the lead role, fearlessly committing to her unsympathetic hero without much vanity or forced empathy. She digs in and slowly finds the humanity, gradually discovering ways to encourage the audience to laugh along at her parade of misery, self-destruction, and eventually learning to be better. Other interesting supporting turns include Sheila Campbell and Talia Pura’s strip club co-workers with plenty of their own demons to go around, but ultimately no one gets a chance to create any character with the depth of Claire. That’s just how these sorts of stories work.
Winnipeg writer/director John Barnard gives the film a vividly controlled and evocative sense of style. Every image is carefully crafted and some of the set-pieces (particularly the Nicolas Winding Refn-esque downmarket strip joint with surrealist lighting and nightmarishly quiet patrons) burrow deep into the mind. However, while Barnard has a way with actors and knows how to shoot the hell out of a scene, his writing can often hamper the movie. As soon as Claire bottoms out and the rebuilding begins, the symbolism comes flying at audiences fast and thick. It’s too often a bit much. (Hey do you think that maze Claire gets lost in is some sort of metaphor for her state of mind? What about that rock from her son weighing down her purse? Sheesh!) There’s nothing wrong with finding visual cues to emphasize themes. That’s something that the film medium is pretty damn great at. But when you get battered over the head with these things as a viewer, it starts to feel like you’re caught in an abusive relationship with the filmmaker.
‘Menorca’ is a rather uneven work. At times, it feels expertly crafted, while at other times it feels like an overambitious student film with a budget. It also doesn’t help that while Claire is an intriguing character performed well, she’s just so self-centered, unsympathetic, and resistant to any sort of change that it becomes tough to care about her or even watch her after a while.
Still, ‘Menorica’ has enough strong ideas, images, performances and sequences to make the movie tough to dismiss outright. Everyone involved is talented. Hopefully next time they’ll just ease up on the snark and symbolism a little.