The emotional tug of a 10-year high-school reunion lands two (mostly) platonic childhood friends back into each other's lives in the charmingly authentic low-key romance Lovers in a Dangerous Time, winner of the Calgary International Film Festival's 2009 audience award.
A true on- and off-screen collaboration between former real-life couple (and enduring friends) May Charters and Mark Hug (with significant creative support from some family members), the film is set in Creston, B.C. , Hug's orchard-dappled hometown, and the pair beautifully weave the Kootenay landscape and local community into the storytelling.
As the film opens, Allison (Charters), a successful children's book illustrator living in Toronto, finds herself between jobs. Travelling back to the scenic Creston seems like the perfect distraction. But her deeper motivation – reconnecting with Todd (Hug), who still lives in town and works at his family's orchard – isn't exactly the romantic reunion we suspect she is longing for.
The film is sprinkled with retro snippets of a golden-haired Allison and Todd playing together as kids. We glimpse over Allison's shoulder as she works at her wistful paintings based on memories of growing up side-by-side with Todd. While the simple, unspoken emotional bond of their childhood is still there, it now comes with an awkward vibe that Allison and Todd can't seem to shake.
At a drunken party after the reunion, Allison, struggling for conversation topics, mentions how they shared a bathtub when they were three years old. Todd takes this as a cue to throw himself on her for a few furtive seconds before someone walks in. It feels so high school – and it gradually becomes clear that's where Todd would rather still be.
When he coyly tells Allison her old family home is for rent she jumps at the chance. She's in between jobs, after all. And perhaps, if she stays a little longer on familiar ground, she and Todd will slide into a more comfortable groove. But that looks unlikely after Todd's brother Bobby (Mark Wiebe), a strapping pro hockey star, returns home for the summer.
Bobby has a swagger but is essentially a likeable guy with great affection for his brother. Nevertheless, he brings out the worst in Todd, whose seething resentment at Bobby's success results in increasingly volatile confrontations, including a brawl on the hockey rink.
While the story is not autobiographical, Hug has drawn in stories and customs from his hometown, not to mention a small army of local extras. And, refreshingly, he and Charters resist giving the characters lack the polished, pithy dialogue we're used to in Hollywood romantic fare.
Rough around the edges but delivered straight from the heart, Lovers in a Dangerous Time revels in the inarticulate and the unresolved, reminding us that romance doesn't always have to mean happily ever after.
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
- Directed and written by May Charters and Mark Hug
- Starring May Charters, Mark Hug and Mark Wiebe
- Classification: 14A
Lovers in a Dangerous Time opens In Toronto on April 6 at the AMC Yonge and Dundas.
Special to The Globe and Mail