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Kiawentiio as Beans, Violah Beauvais as Ruby, Paulina Alexis as April and Rainbow Dickerson as Lily. Beans opens July 23 in Toronto and Vancouver cinemas, with additional cities throughout summer.pierre dury/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

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  • Beans
  • Directed by Tracey Deer
  • Written by Tracey Deer and Meredith Vuchnich
  • Starring Kiawentiio, Violah Beauvais and Rainbow Dickerson
  • Classification N/A; 92 minutes
  • Opens July 23 in Toronto and Vancouver cinemas, with additional cities throughout summer

Backgrounding a coming-of-age drama against the 1990 Oka Crisis in Quebec, Tracey Deer’s Beans has enjoyed a tremendous reception since premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. But while the winner of both the 2021 Canadian Screen Award for best motion picture and the CSA for best first feature film is a powerful work, it also can’t help but lean toward the predictable. This tension between originality of vision and reliance on formula is best exemplified by a mid-film pairing of scenes.

In the first, pregnant mother Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) drives her two adorable young daughters, Tekehentahkhwa, a.k.a. Beans (the young actress Kiawentiio), and Ruby (Violah Beauvais), to their home on Mohawk territory. Suddenly, their car is bombarded by stones thrown by violent, racist Quebeckers, all while the authorities stand idly by. Cutting between Lily’s tearful breakdown and Ruby cowering in the back seat, her hair sprinkled with pebbles of broken glass, Deer creates a moment of intense emotion and eternal cultural trauma, all underlined by the realization that this kind of horror actually happened, and not that long ago, either.

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The young actor Kiawentiio as Beans.Sebastien Raymond/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

This heart-wrenchingly effective scene is followed, though, by Beans embarking on a wild evening out with the wrong teenage crowd, which feels familiar to any number of low-budget adolescent-focused tales, even if Kiawentiio is giving the entirety of herself over to the proceedings.

When Beans works, it resonates deeply. And when it doesn’t, it’s not a tragedy – just evidence of a filmmaker finding what works for her voice and vision, and what might work better for an anticipated follow-up.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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