Grown Up Movie Star
- Written and directed by Adriana Maggs
- Starring Tatiana Maslany and Shawn Doyle
- Classification: 18A
Set in small-town Newfoundland, Grown Up Movie Star is an awkward mixture of an emotionally intimate coming-of-age story and contrived serio-comic plotting. Currently in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, the debut film from Adriana Maggs is a portrait of an irrepressible adolescent who is acting out sexually in reaction to an array of family conflicts. A breakout performance by Tatiana Maslany as the adolescent heroine doesn't obscure the story's excesses, but it makes for a film that feels consistently alive and watchable.
Trouble begins with the opening credits, as muttering mom Lillian (Sherry White) leaves home and her "sham marriage," abandoning her two daughters, Ruby (Maslany) and Rose (Julia Kennedy), and husband Ray (Shawn Doyle). Mom wants to move to Hollywood to become a movie star. If that sounds a little far-fetched, just wait.
We soon learn that Ray is a former National Hockey League player who was sent home in disgrace after being arrested for drug trafficking. What's more, dad is secretly gay, which Ruby discovers when she wakes up one night to discover him receiving oral sex from the local high-school swim coach.
She reacts by seeking some adventures of her own, beginning by sexually teasing her "fake uncle" Stuart (Jonny Harris), an amateur photographer, who has been in a wheelchair since Ray shot him in a hunting accident years before. Ruby also starts up a relationship with a boy who is her own age, Will (Mark O'Brien), which leads to a bloody, unexpected misadventure.
Adding to the trouble, veteran Newfoundland actor Andy Jones shows up as Ray's perpetually angry, right-wing father. His appearance, along with a cameo from Mary Walsh as a high-school receptionist, seems as predictable a part of the Newfoundland setting as the brightly coloured wooden houses and wintry landscape.
Amid all this narrative clutter, the kernel of Grown Up Movie Star is a sensitive movie about a naive rebel, struggling with her own sexuality while surrounded by adults with major boundary issues. Maslany (who is 24 in real life) has the body language and impulsive energy of a teen, and she gives a moving, troubling performance, communicating the brashness and uncertainty of a kid trying to bring on adulthood too fast.
The scenes between Ruby and Ray's paraplegic buddy are unexpectedly subtle. Stuart begins using his camera to alter his relationship with Ruby from avuncular to erotic. Meggs goes to some lengths to avoid portraying him as a stereotypical sexual predator: He's a sweet-natured but frustrated man who foolishly responds to Ruby's experimental advances.
That said, subtlety is by no means the dominant mode here and the emotional explosions at the film's conclusion are undermined by their predictability: In a narrative that's an assembly line of crises, what difference do a few more matter?