Grown Up Movie Star (2010) dir. Adriana Maggs
Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Shawn Doyle, Andy Jones, Steve Cochrane, Jonny Harris
By Alan Bacchus
No one can accuse writer/director Adriana Maggs of being a moderate, polite, subdued Canadian. The Newfoundland-shot ‘Grown Up Movie Star’ sends a grenade into the coming-of-age subgenre of cinema. Innumerable films have been made about the entrance of boy or girl into adulthood, including two or three here at Sundance alone, but few have been able to draw characters as fresh, honest and lovable from such extreme emotional turmoil as the newfies in this film.
Perhaps its the fact that it comes out of 'The Rock', the affectionate term for the our eastern-most province, Newfoundland, which allows it to avoid all clichés of the genre. With its complex melodramatic family plotting “Grown Up Movie Star” threatens to fall apart at the seams at any moment, but Maggs precariously balances boundary pushing edgy sexual comedy with sharp biting humour and holds it all together.
Maggs sets up a very complicated household situation for much her fractured family. Ray (Shawn Doyle) is a former hockey player and the downtrodden father to two daughters, whose mother has left them for Hollywood to pursue an acting career. Ruby (Tatiana Marslany) is a mature and sharp 14 year old who has stepped up to take care of herself and her 11 year old sister Rose (Julie Kennedy). The idea of Ray raising two daughters going through adolescence, on his own is challenging enough, but when he’s trying to reconcile his own personal sexual complications, he’s going through a headspinning labyrinth of emotions. Ruby’s increasing awareness of her sexuality causes her to have her own dreams of grandeur of becoming a Hollywood movie star, and so she cozies up to her Uncle Stu (Jonny Harris), a wheelchair bound photographer with a creepy predilection for young girls - a dangerous concoction which will bring to a head a history of family conflicts.
For once Maggs has written in a sophisticated version of a small town modern family. Ray and Ruby’s relationship is written with such realism, we can’t predict the reactions of each other to their own emotional revelations which arise throughout the film. Yet Maggs’ precise control of tone and remarkably realistic characters say exactly the right things at the right time. From drugs, homosexuality, pedophilia, rape, blow jobs, broken foreskins, Maggs admirably never gives her characters a break, and is miraculously on the mark with everything.
Despite the melodramatic plotting there’s some dark comedy to be mined from these absurd situations as well. Though Maggs is a writer of television comedy she doesn’t manufacture traditional set-up/punch lines jokes or gags, her comedy simmers underneath the intense dramatic moments, and emerges naturally out of her characters’ reactions to the extreme situations.
For example, Ruby's reaction to walking into Dad getting a blowjob from her high school gym teacher - a shocking discovery which she approaches with real world honest intelligence. Despite being from a small town, homosexuality is not frightening to her, she’s a child of a pop culturally aware generation familiar with gay culture. So she’s not so much angry with Dad for his sexuality but the lies he’s been hiding from her all this time.
Perhaps the greatest marvel of the film is the discovery of Tatiana Maslany who breathes life into Ruby. The young actress has a face that can express maturity and emotional vulnerability, a performance that leads ‘Grown Up Movie Star” to be one of the boldest and ballsiest coming of age films in a while and certainly one of best films of the festival.