A week of nostalgia-laden releases concludes with a heartfelt road movie by director Bruce McDonald and playwright Daniel MacIvor (‘Hard Core Logo’) that drips with melancholy and 1990s indie film quirk (the less kind might say “cliché”). Beautifully made despite some dodgy pacing and an awkwardly episodic narrative, this is a quite personal film with plenty of subtle charm.
The picture feels like something of a nostalgia act for McDonald, who made his directorial debut with another black-and-white road movie decades ago in ‘Roadkill’. That cult oddity was far more aggressive and deliberately odd. (It was no surprise when McDonald announced plans to spend the TIFF prize money he’d won for the project on hash.) The guy has mellowed over the years, which makes him more suited to work with quietly potent playwright MacIvor. The pair collaborated on the beautiful ‘Trigger’ back in 2010, another two-handed drama about friendship. That one was about old friends, old connections and old wounds. This one is a coming-of-age tale that feels littered with autobiographical notes by the writer.
Set in 1976, Dylan Authors and Julia Sarah Stone star as Kit and Alice, bumbling wayward teens from Nova Scotia. As tends to be the case with kids their age and disposition, they’re tired of the limitations of their rural life and are anxious to escape. They want to move to New York, but for now a little road trip feels like the right medication. The plan is to hitchhike from their home town to a beach party. It’s not far away, but feels like a lifetime.
Alice is anxious to push their friendship into something more serious and physical, which Kit keeps pulling away from. To further prove the boy’s questioning of his sexuality, he’s also frequently visited by visions of Andy Warhol, who spits out the type of maddeningly vague musings on life that one might expect from an Andy Warhol hallucination in an indie movie. Kit also plans to visit his mother (the great Molly Parker). Unsurprisingly, there’s a little strain in the relationship between the confused teen and his manic mommy. This is one of those movies where the long and winding road on screen mirrors the winding emotional growth of the protagonists. Fortunately, this is one of the good ones.
MacIvor’s background as a playwright shows. ‘Weirdos’ is essentially comprised of a series of long dialogue scenes where characters slowly reveal their innermost thoughts and emotions (or a vision of Andy Warhol) to each other. At times, that can feel a bit too rambling, but thankfully McDonald was the right guy to transform the writer’s gentle musings into cinema. McDonald kicked off his career with a series of road movies and delights in the opportunity to fill the screen with oddball character cameos and strangely serene images passing by the protagonists. Shooting in absolutely gorgeous soft black-and-white from cinematographer Becky Parsons (making her feature debut in that capacity), the director creates a visual landscape that feels somewhere between a faded memory and a dream.
The soundtrack of period music adds to the wistful vibe, and thanks to sticking to a tight 85-minute running time, things never get tedious as the movie floats along to its own unique rhythms. For a while, its mixture of gentle comedy and complicated emotions seems to shift tones at will depending on the stage of the journey. That eventually stops when the trip reaches Kit’s mother and MacIvor’s goals are laid bare. However, the oddly dreamy atmosphere helps the movie coast along with a sense of quirky mystery.
The performances are generally wonderful. Dylan Authors and Julia Sarah Stone beautifully capture the mix of hope and dread for kids their age, never feeling false despite all the theatrical monologues they spit out. Molly Parker (‘Deadwood’, ‘House of Cards’) is absolutely wonderful as an equally confused and growing mother, reminding everyone what a wonderful actress she truly is.
The Andy Warhol sequences feel like forced indie weirdness, some of the supporting characters are clearly non-actors in a non-flattering way, and the final emotional beats of the movie cram home messages so hard that viewers might feel battered and oversold. Even so, ‘Weirdos’ has a unique beauty that will capture the hearts of anyone who’d ascribe themselves with that label. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a rather beautiful movie in form and purpose. The fact that it’s all a bit ramshackle and inconsistent kind of adds to the unique charms in an odd way. This is the sort of movie that you stumble into unexpectedly and emerge from feeling pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, enough weirdos get to see it. They may be surprised by how well it resonates, despite the shaggy-dog flaws.