Wilby Wonderful Review

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AKA: N/A

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Comedy/Drama
Year Released: 2004

Distributor: Film Movement
Origin: Canada

Running Time: 99 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+

Related Films/Series: N/A

For Fans Of: Marion Bridge, August the First, Human Capital
Notes: N/A

Fun Facts:

-Wilby Wonderful is an original screenplay by Daniel MacIvor. He even acts in this film as the cop Stan who’s Buddy’s partner. This is also the 2nd film from Film Movement where he was involved in the creation process since he also worked on Marion Bridge.

-Wilby, Canada is a fictional town, but it was confirmed by MacIvor that it was based on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. It’s an island that’s in the Northeastern part of that province. Interestingly enough, it was filmed in Shelburne which is in the polar opposite direction of the Cape Breton region.

-The mayor Brent Fisher is played by American-Canadian actor Maury Chaykin. That’s none other than Nero Wolfe himself for those of you that watch cable television series.

-This film was scored by Michael Timmins who is the guitarist for Cowboy Junkies.


Here goes my habit of re-watching movies I’ve seen a long time ago again. There was another thought that crossed my mind as I thought about the countries represented on Iridium Eye. I haven’t reviewed many Canadian films. Sure, there was The Corporation which is Canada’s highest grossing documentary of all time, and some films had Canadian co-production credits such as the Burkina Faso-based Dreams of Dust or the music documentary Danielson: A Family Movie, but I haven’t looked at that many films from the country that’s one nation North of me.

I promise to make a change, my wonderful neighbo(u)rs in the Land of the Maple Leaf. This film even has some people that are considered A-list celebrities in your homeland including some that us Americans know.

Wilby Wonderful deals with the lives of several people living in this island Canadian town. Up in this part of the Maritimes, Wilby is gearing up for it’s annual festivities for people to partake in. Unfortunately, the little town is facing controversy as there are rumors that the rampant usage of illegal drugs and carnal sexual activities (including those allegedly from the LBGT community) have been happening at Wilby Watch which is a rocky beach on the coast of the town. The local paper and authorities threaten to reveal who’s been doing these things in their cozy conservative country town. In the meantime, there are a cast of characters who have their own issues that directly or indirectly coincide with each other. There’s Officer Buddy French who’s one of the cops trying to find evidence of the smuttiness going on at Wilby Watch although finding nothing despite the insistence of his partner Stan. Buddy’s wife Carol is busy selling his late mother (her mother-in-law’s) house while she’s juggling the annual fair duties and other things for her work even though she’s oblivious that her husband has been making out with another woman named Sandra Anderson. Sandra owns a small restaurant in town and has a past for being quite promiscuous with the local men which turns off her teenage daughter Emily who hopes that her boyfriend will be better and that she won’t make the same mistakes her mom made which cause them to move from town to town to evade Sandra’s past. There’s also a local video rental store owner named Dan Jarvis who has been feeling so depressed that he wants to kill himself for some reason as his attempts have been interrupted. This catches the eye of local painter Walter “Duck” MacDonald as he wants to make sure he’s doing alright although he doesn’t expect that Jarvis was going to kill himself. Duck also becomes aware of the scandals going on as a passive observer of the other characters in Wilby. All these events occur within a span of twenty-four hours and everyone has to deal with their own issues in the Canadian Maritimes.

This was a bit of a quirky film to watch. Despite never visiting Canada, I find the situations of the people in Wilby to be quite believable with their personal issues. The situations of cheating on others, a scandal, and caring too much about the local festivities are something I can see happening anywhere in a small town regardless of what country it takes place in. There was a bit of world-building by establishing the culture of Wilby as this quaint little Maritimes town with their own businesses and family-friendly image that masks the drama. There are even people like Sandra in particular who address others as islanders who are people from Wilby or at the least from the island part of the province or mainlanders who are people from mainland Canada that move to Wilby or visit there. This labeling becomes quite fascinating as Emily asks Duck asks why being an islander is so great. He quickly responds with “They have to call themselves something to feel good [about themselves]”. The fact that Duck has lived in Wilby his whole life added so much credence to how the culture isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. That was a nice subtle touch.

I was actually impressed with the acting with some of the characters and what big names they had for this independent film. Paul Gross as Buddy French was great. I liked how he was being a cop for the right reasons, but he gets so conflicted as he attempts an affair with Sandra in secret. I also liked that he takes no crap from anyone including the mayor who has his own issues despite coming off as someone charming. Buddy’s wife is played by Sandra Oh. That name should be familiar since she’s famous for playing Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy. Even though I’m not a fan of that show, I have to give her props for playing Carol. She just nails it as this overworked real estate saleswoman who has her hands in so many pies. Carol is on her cell phone so much talking about business deals and other planning with so many agencies that she would make Charlotte Pickles from Rugrats drop her jaw in shock. She is fretting about so many petty things like the big one being the banner saying “Wilby Wonderful” instead of “Wonderful Wilby” and takes out all her rage on Duck who put the banner up. The scene with her ranting about her personal life mixed in with her role in the fair was just solid as she believably sold those emotions. I also give Daniel MacIvor major props for portraying the Frenches as a normal couple despite them being interracial and with Carol being the only minority character. Not many directors can do that well. The biggest name of the film would be Ellen Page playing the teenage daughter of Sandra, Emily. Even though this was early on in her film career, she did a good job playing this girl who harbors resentment to her own promiscuous mom that builds to a crescendo. She thinks she knows it all and not make the same mistakes before being oblivious to her own actions and her boyfriend in a tense scene. Okay, even though I have a severe issue with her for being in a movie that came out years later that stole so much stuff from a certain Satoshi Kon anime film, I will admit that she did a good job here. Maury Chaykin as the mayor was great. He was splendid in playing this charismatic politician who has his own underlying motives for dealing with the Wilby Watch Scandal. Brent Fisher may come off as a lovable mayoral character, but you can tell that he has something to hide for nefarious reasons that he can excuse.

Wilby Wonderful does well at intersecting the various stories with the characters, but not everything hit the mark for me. The content can certainly be controversial for some viewers with Emily’s romantic subplot even though she does get happiness in the end or the fact that there is a homosexual subplot between two male characters that becomes more obvious as one keeps watching the film. Daniel MacIvor is an openly gay director and he doesn’t make that shipping the main focus of the film, but it does play a big role for two characters. Even though I do confess that I got uncomfortable at times when that storyline was brought up since I’m a straight man, but that wasn’t my biggest issue with Wilby Wonderful. It actually involved Dan Jarvis. Yes, he’s one of the men who becomes involved in the gay romance storyline, but that’s not my main issue. Despite James Allodi playing that character just fine, I had a huge problem with how they portrayed his suicidal tendencies. He tries killing himself several times throughout the movie which I found to be way too disturbing for it’s own good. I was also shocked that the other characters were oblivious to this fact like how Carol never put the two and two together when there’s a bunch of gas in the house being sold and Jarvis just happened to be near the oven. Or when the two of them sign papers and he stares at a ceiling plank while signing and saying “it’s perfect” referring to the plank that’s high enough to hang himself on. I thought the portrayal of his depression was the wrong kind of dark comedy. They should have done the bridge scene at the beginning and then have him try to hang himself much later. I found that aspect tasteless despite the other good things in Wilby Wonderful.

Wilby Wonderful was a fine comedy/drama although I had some umbrage with parts of it. The cinematography was just fine and I enjoyed the calm acoustic tracks. Even the occasional country music didn’t bother me despite not being a country fan since it did coincide with Jarvis liking Westerns. I thought the plotting with everyone’s issues was well-handled. I wasn’t expecting something like Rashomon, but it wasn’t bad. The acting was superb and I do confess that Sandra Oh was a main highlight with her acting skills in playing the workaholic Carol French. There were a few funny parts thrown in which I did laugh a bit. However, this film isn’t for anyone with some of the subject matter and I thought the suicidal aspect with Jarvis’ character was mishandled. Wilby Wonderful wasn’t wonderful in my eyes, but it certainly wasn’t a bad film to watch.



Adjustable Point System:


Add 1 point if you like rural film settings.
Subtract 2-3 points if LGBT content makes you really uncomfortable.



Pros:

-Great visual production
-Wonderful acting (Sandra Oh being the best)
-Nice intersection of the character’s tribulations

Cons:
-Jarvis’s depression and suicide attempts
-Content can be too controversial at times
-Lack of backstory with some characters

Final Score: 7/10 points



Content Warning: Wilby Wonderful might get a hard PG-13 or a really soft R if this got an official rating in America. There is drug usage like planted needles and Sandra gets really drunk in front of her daughter and that’s saying nothing about the portrayal of teenage smoking and drinking. There are sexual references even though some of the sex scenes are far from pornographic. Unfortunately, there’s an attempted sexual assault, but it’s thankfully stopped by Duck himself. Some strong language is said and it gets very harsh in the second half of the film. Also, two men start to form a romantic relationship with one another throughout the course of the film which can make some viewers feel extremely awkward.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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