One of the smartest, funniest, most irreverent films of the fest. If you ever wanted to smash in your TV or exit the multiplex after an unrealistically saccharine depiction of the low-calorie pains of youth, this is for you. It’s a hilariously scathing, snappily scripted nightmare vision of life in a bored, boring, dead weird, freezing Canadian harbour town where sexual intrigue is the only way to distract yourself from the fact that there’s solid ice up to your windowsill and the chill’s strong enough to strip the eyebrows off your face.
Ruby and her younger sister Rose have a flighty, wannabe actress mother (“I could have won an Emmy…this could be my chance to make it…I might get a callback from that Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial”) who leaves them to follow the yellow brick road of screen fame, which ends in an LA motel room and the bowl of a crack pipe. They are left with their equally deluded but additionally selfish, vindictive, confused, angry, immature, alcoholic, bitter father, who used to be a local hockey star before he got busted, after one pathetically brief moment of fame, for bringing pot over the border. When he’s not berating his kids he’s ignoring them or they’re cleaning up his vomit after a night out with his one friend, an owlish guy in a wheelchair. Why’s he in a wheelchair? The dad shot him, apparently by accident. As Ruby’s friend deadpans at the school bus stop, “Your life is so cool. I wish my parents would cheat on each other and get drug problems.”
Grown-Up Movie Star has much more to offer than sarcasm and Northern Exposure type weirdness, though. It’s full of totally wrong humour, like the scene where the two virginal best friends chastely practise kissing each other while a really raw-looking homemade porn tape belonging to one of their mothers plays in the background. They get caught and grounded, “for being lesbians.” There is a brilliant, laconic, stoned script, the lines so good that I am tempted to write out the whole thing. But here’s a bit:
Ruby to Dad: Some retarded girl told me you were a piece of gear.
Dad: What?! Only sluts would say that.
Underneath Ruby’s chippiness – actually, no, not far underneath, it’s obvious to everyone except her dad – she is a caustic, brave, sweet, funny, clever girl. Played by the unutterably brilliant Tatiana Maslany, she says exactly what’s on her mind, calls it as she sees it (usually correctly) and never messes other people, or herself, about. Everything she does is misconstrued because everyone else is playing games. As the classic psychoanalytic joke goes, the sane person in a room of crazy folks feels like they’re the mad one. When a sweet American boy arrives at school, Ruby’s usual role as town quirk is disrupted because of the possibility of being real and then being hurt. So she teases and confuses him and begins to play the games and tell the lies she has so despised in others.
Lies are contagious: in a darker strand of the film we learn that Ruby’s father is not just the bitter bastard he makes himself out to be with lines like, “Let me tell you about your mother. She liked to fuck. But she didn’t always floss. And you could tell. She was a beautiful woman, but she had breath like a horse.” He is struggling with his sexuality and with the legacy of his own father’s bigotry, racism, beatings and cruelty. Sexual misdeeds of all kinds happen – with characteristic wit – in odd little overheated cabins and 4x4s with snow chains on the tyres. It is difficult to tell, at first, what is a benign joke and what will spill over into violence. Is the father’s wheelchair bound friend a nice ‘uncle’ who takes an interest in the girls, or is he something more sinister? And how are Ruby and her new young boyfriend going to clean up in the aftermath of the funniest virginity loss scene you’ll see this year?