It’s simple to pitch Firecrackers as “Canadian Honey,” a Canuck take on similar turf that Andrea Arnold covered with her celebrated (but flawed) 2016 drama American Honey. As films about fiery young women coming to terms with the rebellion of youth and the need to escape their circumstances, the two have tonal similarities. However, to Jasmin Mozaffari’s credit, her movie takes its own path.
Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans) are best of friends with little ambition save the drive to get the hell out of town. They’ve been squirrelling away money, trying to convince a friend to take them away, but the quicksand-like nature of small town life does its damndest to keep them in place, right from appalling decision-making in terms of boyfriends and certain obsessions that prevent them from getting outside their heads.
As the story progresses, we engage with Lou and Chantal as fully realized, deeply flawed characters. Few around them act much better, and much of the film has a misanthropic flair that’s occasionally suffocating. But throughout, there’s a feeling that each is in their own way trying to not only escape but to better themselves, to bring a bit of light into what’s otherwise an oppressive darkness.
Much can be made about some of the story events that challenge easy judgement. From a coerced sexual encounter to returning to abuse, this is not an immediately inviting portrayal of the young women. Still, Mozaffari manages to focus on the believability of these actions, refusing to shy away from the truth of the situation in order to make the two leads more palatable for a general audience.
For a first-time filmmaker, this is extraordinary stuff, with a confidence in both storyline and character development that escapes veteran directors all the time. It does at times result in a slightly off-kilter moral center, where at certain moments we’re meant to empathize at a certain moment of vulnerability that leans far more to the self-destructive than systemically wrought.
All these ambivalent moments result in a film that’s equal parts politically astute and deeply challenging, all while doing its utmost to allow the audience to decide what to think of these characters and their actions. It’s clear that many won’t feel the same about Lou and Chantal as the writer/director may have intended, but that’s part of the gift of the film. Mozaffari allows space for this to occur. Usually, this is done via a masking of incoherence or dream-like reverie, but here we have a film that sticks to a clear narrative while refusing simple answers. It simply asks the audience to invest.
This capacity sets Firecrackers apart, making Mozaffari’s film all the more remarkable for it. People from different strata, be they gender, class or race divisions, will find in the movie many aspects that mirror their own experiences, while others feel completely foreign or even reprehensible. That dynamic is too often absent in this type of independent filmmaking, and it makes Firecrackers such an explosive debut.