Judge Nelson still regrets that picture day in junior high. Why didn't mom stop her wearing the mushroom hair style. Why?!
School Principal: "You can't stay in high school forever, Claire."
A friend was telling me about a movie she had just seen. While she was describing it, a puzzling look came over her face. She stared at me and said, almost apologetically, "You would think from my description that I loved this movie, but really I didn't like it as much as I wanted to." It can be a bit confusing, when all the pieces scream good movie, but when you put them together it's a so-so experience at best. This is the case with the coming-of-age tale Picture Day. It has good acting, fine writing, and directing, but when it was all over, I only had feeling of "meh." And like my dear friend, I sat at my keyboard with a puzzled look upon my face, contemplating why.
Facts of the Case
Claire (Tatiana Maslany, The Vow) is an underachieving unmotivated teenager repeating her senior year in high school. The troubled young girl is sleeping with Jim (Steven McCarthy, The Skulls), a hip singer from a funk band, and mentoring the thoroughly geeky Henry (Spencer Van Wyck), a classmate for whom she used to babysit. High school isn't going much smoother the second time around either. Now that she's no longer a minor who can skate by in life, the new and not so improved "adult" Claire must decide if she'll take her education seriously, transcending her previous self who would do anything to get the attention she sorely desired.
As I ponder Picture Day, I've come to the conclusion that I like it, I just don't love it. I can't help but compare it to another better film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which packed the emotional wallop this one lacks.
Writer/director Kate Miles Melville says these characters have been in her life since she was a teen. If so, you'd think there'd be more of an emotional connection, but we never get a real sense of what makes these people tick. Claire is our heroine (of sorts), whose life is directionless. Her mom sits on the couch all day, depressed and pining over a man who only sees her when it's convenient for him. The mother/daughter relationship is key to who Claire is, and it isn't explored nearly enough. One of the most powerful scenes is when Claire comes home and finds her mom crying on the front steps. Mom's on-again off-again boyfriend promised to come over, which he didn't, nor did he bother to call. Here we see a sympathetic Claire showing a softness she usually takes great pains to hide. While consoling her, the mom says, "What am I going to do now Claire? I have no one. I'm all alone." Boom! Now we see what makes Claire so callous; she has a mother who doesn't even see her as a valued person. This is why Claire is so desperate for love, rejects school, has no friends, and will service any guy who asks. Sadly, that very important relationship is left hanging in the ether, only to be revisited in passing.
As Claire, Tatiana Maslany delivers a powerhouse performance, taking the many facets of the character and running with them. We believe her as the coquettish sex kitten, the babysitter shown in old films, the pseudo wise friend, and the child who just wants her mother's love. Maslany is amazing and should be a force to reckon in the coming years.
Van Wyck is perfectly weird as Henry, the genius young man who conceals his lifelong crush on the flawed Claire. This is a highly organized kid, whose life with Claire is compartmentalized in a shoe box, complete with labeled bags containing memories of their past experiences. What's interesting is he comes back into Claire's life at just the right moment, the one person who keeps her grounded, and loves her as she is. Henry values their friendship more than sex, something Claire desperately needs.
Steven McCarthy, in addition to being a fine actor, is the lead singer of the Toronto band Elastocitizens, and it's their music which is featured in Picture Day. It may not seem like much of a stretch for a musician to portray a musician, but he's quite effective as the narcissist who lures Claire into his web, turning out to be another in a long line of disappointments.
Picture Day plays more like three mini-vignettes—Claire and Jim, Claire and Henry, Claire and her mother—than a complete narrative film. The bridge between these stories never really comes together and what we end up with are snippets of Claire's chaotic life that doesn't ever allow us to know the real her. The film would've been far more engaging if we saw more of Claire's broken relationship with her mother, giving us a better look at why she turned out so lost.
Presented in standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film's visuals highlight life in Toronto. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track is clear and easy on the ears. The music from The Elastocitizens is quite good, and might make you want to check them out (I know I will). Bonus features include a short featurette and the film's original trailer.
For many of us, high school is a distant memory we wish never to repeat. Picture Day reminds us of the angst associated with those days. It just doesn't go deep enough to make a lasting impression.
O' Canada, this is not great, but it isn't Guilty either.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ketchup Entertainment
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