With Weirdos, Bruce McDonald returns to the road movie format that brought him fame in Roadkill (1989), Highway 61 (1991), and Hard Core Logo (1996). But he also looks longingly to Canadian cinema’s past, when films like Nobody Waved Goodbye (Don Owen, 1964) and Goin’ Down the Road (Donald Shebib, 1970) gave us restless young men seeking an escape from their rural lives to find excitement in the big city.
It’s 1976. America proudly celebrates its bicentennial, while in Antagonish, Nova Scotia, 15-year-old Kit (Dylan Authors) dreams of something different in New York City. Accompanied by his girlfriend, Alice (played by the tremendously talented Canadian rising star Julia Sarah Stone), Kit leaves his father’s home, determined to live with his absentee mother in the neighbouring city of Sydney. Also along for the ride is Kit’s self-proclaimed ‘spirit animal’, the living ghost of Andy Warhol (Rhys Bevan-John). Kit’s dissatisfaction and need for escape does stand apart from the legion of Canadian wanderers before him, and this is where McDonald subverts the tradition that he so beautifully evokes. Kit is no upstart loser destined to fail like the young men before him, nor is he escaping comfort and support. His fractured relationship with his father is palpable from the film’s opening scene, and his budding sexuality doesn’t fit the norms of 1970s small town Nova Scotia. These are real challenges and make for a genuinely moving coming of age tale.
Weirdos is also peppered with bits of Canadiana. McDonald doesn’t waste an opportunity to wink at the audience, with cameos by This Hour Has 22 Minutes alumnus Cathy Jones, and Trailer Park Boys’ John Dunsworth, not to mention overt reminders of America’s shadow constantly cast over Canada’s national identity. In one scene, a Cambodian refugee bitingly observes that Canadians are too busy watching American parades on TV to bother learning about the rest of the world.
McDonald salutes the legacy of Canadian cinema with Weirdos, and he does it without sacrificing originality. The director knows his history and he knows how to reach his audience. With a great cast (Molly Parker stands out in particular as Kit’s mother), a smart story, great soundtrack, and sparse but effective black and white cinematography, Weirdos truly shines at this year’s festival.