October 08, 2004

Wilby Wonderful

Directed by Daniel MacIvor Starring Paul Gross, Sandra Oh and Rebecca Jenkins

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Paging Mr. Harvey Weinstein! If you are looking to find another afternoon TV movie special concerning small-town outcasts à la The Station Agent, look no further. Even through Wilby Wonderful doesn't involve a dwarf, it nevertheless boasts plenty of insipid stock eccentrics and one of those trite live-and-let-live themes to boot.

Just like that overrated Miramax sleeper, Wilby is obdurately simple-minded. Every occupant of its fictional Nova Scotian island has precisely one dilemma to resolve. There's a depressed gay man trying to commit suicide, a trampy single mom trying to seduce a married man, a cop trying to investigate troubles at a recreational spot, a high-strung realtor trying to unload a house, a mayor trying to develop a golf course and a teenage girl trying to get serious with her boyfriend.

Writer/director Daniel MacIvor is deficient in the depth and the skills necessary to adequately cultivate a film like this. He lacks John Sayles' knack for socio-political observations, Robert Altman's or P.T. Anderson's ability to manage an intricately interwoven story, and the Coen Brothers' ear for regional colloquialism. Halfway through, MacIvor has already fumbled several threads of the story. The little that's left comes off as too slight and convenient to convey generic messages about acceptance.

The characters in the film react to rather than really affect one another. The fact that they are all interconnected comes off like an afterthought. Their individual personalities and convictions also seem to shift, depending on whether they are the protagonists or antagonists in a particular situation. In spite of the capable cast of Canadian actors that includes Paul Gross of "Due South" and Maury Chaykin, none of the characters will strike viewers as particularly memorable. Except possibly for Sandra Oh's realtor, who seems like a blatant carbon copy of Annette Bening's in American Beauty.

As if to compensate for the main characters' inability to engage viewers, MacIvor throws some provincial gossip and ignorance into the mix in a calculated effort to educe some identification and sympathy. Perhaps oblivious to libel and invasion of privacy laws, he embellishes the small-town bigotry with the newspaper threatening to publish a blacklist of local homosexuals. It doesn't work, and viewers will quickly become skeptical of the director's intent. But there are always far worse manipulations, and thankfully the film doesn't ultimately resort to exploiting a dwarf for the sole purpose of pulling heartstrings.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.