- Red Rover
- Directed by Shane Belcourt
- Written by Shane Belcourt and Duane Murray
- Starring Kristian Bruun, Cara Gee and Meghan Heffern
- Classification PG; 95 minutes
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl has been an elusive creature these past few years. Most film critics assumed that the species died off with the 2015 release of Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, in which Emma Stone’s adorably irritating character represented both the height and nadir of the bizarrely persistent archetype of indie-flavoured rom-com cinema. You know the shtick: She’s kooky, she’s cute, and she exists solely to wake some dreary dude from his self-imposed emotional slumber.
But just as Canada can be years late when it comes to importing American culture – oh, those decades we spent wandering in the basic-cable desert waiting for HBO Canada – it appears that our homegrown filmmakers have not yet received the memo regarding MPDG’s timely death. Which is why domestic audiences now have to contend, in the cursed year of 2020, with the low-fi romantic drama Red Rover and an MPDG that is long past its best-before date.
The resurrected specimen on display in Shane Belcourt’s new movie appears about 10 minutes in, immediately alerting audiences of the filmmaker’s quirky bona fides. Her name is Phoebe, she’s clad in a skin-tight white spacesuit, and she quickly makes twinkly eyed nice with a sad-sack loner on a deserted Toronto beach in the middle of the night. Will Phoebe prod the recently divorced Damon to come out of his shell? Will her musical career take off (she’s a busker when not running around in a spacesuit, naturally)? Will anyone be able to take anything that proceeds seriously?
All these questions and less are posed by Belcourt and his co-writer Duane Murray, wrapped around a story in which Damon might be heading off to Mars. Or at least participate in a reality-TV show in which ordinary men and women prepare to go to Mars. Just as it is hard to give that idea much weight, it is challenging to find anything intriguing or original or worthy of attachment with either Damon or his MPDG Phoebe. These are walking and talking traits, not characters.
Still, Cara Gee does more than either her script or director demand in playing Phoebe. She gives at least a sliver of depth to her MPDG’s empty charms, and helps a clumsy mid-film development feel sincere, rather than narratively convenient. Stoic in the face of screenplay hardships, too, is Kristian Bruun as Damon. How he persuades us to pay any mind to the film’s stub of a man is quite the feat. Almost as impressive as going to the Red Planet. Or raising the Manic Pixie Dream Girl from her cold, deep grave.
Red Rover is available digitally on-demand starting May 12
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.