Only (2009) dir. Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds
Starring: Jacob Switzer, Elena Hudgins Lyle
From TIFF to Slamdance to Rome and more, "Only's" been racking up mondo air miles on the film festival circuit and now it finally lands back home for it's Toronto release. Less is more is the filmmaking mantra behind this latest low budget 73mins entry in the genre of 12-year-olds coming of age on film. A tender friendship between a girl and a boy amongst the snowcapped environment of Northern Ontario anchors this sparse but tender Canadian DIY indie.
Daniel (Jacob Switzer) is the single child of a hippie couple operating a low rent motel in Northern Ontario. His days are spent repetitively cleaning the motel rooms, changing garbage bins and for fun, diving in the pool and trying on accessories from the absent motel patrons.
After witnessing a domestic dispute between a bickering couple, Daniel is drawn to help their young daughter Vera (Elena Hudgins Lyle) who wanders off in protest. And so begins the movie, essentially a walk in the woods which becomes their mutual coming of age, culminating a brief but so so satisfying kiss – first base!
The 12-year-old dialogue feels like that, conversation topics which emerge at random without subtext or ulterior motives. After all, kids like Daniel and Vera are just learning to talk, so there's both a naturalism and consequently a degree of banality in their dialogue. But thankfully Veninger and Reynolds never resort to overwritten false profundities of say a Dakota Fanning performance. They also know how to play as well and a number of fun scenes are staged showing that they have yet to replace their playful rambunctiousness with teenage cynicism. An imagined tennis match on a snow filled tennis court is the most wonderful moment of the kids' still vibrant imaginations.
A number of tonally precise indie pop tunes are introduced at the right moments to break up the dialogue and literally push the movie along when things slow down. On one hand this could be seen as an artificial crutch of support, but the music which the kids carry with them at all times in their I-Pods literally act as the soundtrack of their lives, thus earning the filmmakers this license.
The filmmaking methodology would seem to fit the en vogue mumblecore genre (I recently watched 'The Puffy Chair', so this is in my mind) – two characters and a camera, and indeed for most of the film, this is what it is, but visually the film is more than just a repetition of coverage. Veninger and Reynolds frame the journey beautifully against the awesomeness of their environment, only jumping in for that close-up when absolutely necessary. Mountains, distant bridges, rock formations and the naked maple trees look down on our characters observing the action as much as the audience.
And in the spirit of this DIY filmmaking (also the name of their production company) look carefully for co-directors Veninger and Reynolds who play both sets of parents to Daniel and Vera!
“Only” has much in common with Kelly Reichardt’s deliberately-paced buddy film “Old Joy”. Instead of contriving falsely profound life-changing moments or like most one-night nostalgia films compressing the best moments of youth into one film, “Only” concentrates on developing just one life-changing moment – first kiss. Enjoy.
"Only" is playing from April 24-28 at the Royal Cinema in Toronto