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film review

Director Jesse James Miller works with Melody Choi, left, and the film’s star, Ryan Grantham (Redwood), on the set of Becoming Redwood.

Mark Twain once said that "golf is a good walk spoiled," a maxim that also applies to the potentially promising Canadian drama Becoming Redwood. What might have been an affecting coming-of-age story is hampered rather than enhanced by the integration of fantasy sequences depicting its 13-year-old protagonist trying to win the prestigious Masters tournament – his private putting green of the soul, as it were.

Redwood (Ryan Grantham) is literally and figuratively a child of the 1960s, born to hippie parents looking to relocate from the U.S to Canada so dad Ethan (Chad Willett) can dodge the draft. But mom Jade (Jennifer Copping) blanches at the border, leaving Redwood to grow up in a grow-op in Vancouver, pining for the parent left behind.

The twist is that, at the moment his parents separated, Redwood – then a toddler – was listening to a radio broadcast of golfing great Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Oddly, that apparently convinces the kid that the only way to bring his family back together is to topple the so-called Golden Bear in head-to-head play at the Masters – an elaborate imaginary-rival scenario that unnerves even his perpetually stoned papa.

There's a fine line between quirky and overbearing, and Becoming Redwood keeps stumbling over to the wrong side. Ethan is arrested for his extra-curricular activities and Redwood gets sent back to the States to live with his mother and her good-old-boy husband (Derek Hamilton), whose sons resent having to deal with a new stepbrother. The family dynamics here are fairly well-observed, and the revelation that Jade found herself torn between a flower child and a redneck adds a little sociology to the mix. It means that the movie is using its '70s setting as something more than an excuse for retro production design and a soundtrack crammed with classic rock.

Elsewhere, however, clichés abound. Tormented at every turn by the other male members of the household, Redwood takes refuge in his relationship with his grandfather (Scott Hylands), a gruff shut-in who dispenses golf advice in exchange for stolen chocolate. This sage codger/eager student dynamic is familiar from so many other movies, as is the fact that the old-timer is really teaching his young charge more about life than he is about golf.

Eventually Redwood's obsessive fixation on his imaginary tournament starts to feel about as wearying to us as it does to the people around him. And while Grantham gives a game performance, the character's dazed posture and distracting blonde mop make him appear somewhat alienating when he's supposed to be a relatable protagonist.

It's obvious that writer-director Jesse James Miller cares about his characters, although at times his attempts to heighten the emotional tone go awry (as when Redwood rather implausibly pulls a rifle on his step-dad). This awkwardness is a sign of earnestness – Becoming Redwood wears its good intentions on its sleeve. And if citing a movie's vibes instead of its writing, directing or acting sounds like damning with faint praise, that's because it is.