Director Bruce McDonald has concocted a feisty adaptation of novelist W.P. Kinsella’s “Dance Me Outside”– a contemporary look at life on an Indian reservation and its environs. Bolstered by a winning, youthful cast, the film is a droll ensemble piece that makes its serious points skillfully and effortlessly. The unique perspective of the milieu alone should provide a solid commercial hook, and the consummate craft of the production ensures strong specialized returns domestically and in upscale foreign outings.
Central to the story is Silas Crow (Ryan Rajendra Black), a teen living on a Northern Ontario reserve whose goal is to take a mechanic’s course in Toronto with his buddy Frank Fencepost (Adam Beach). Part of his entrance requirement is to write a story about his home, and the film’s narrative serves as the basis of that tale.
The incident that focuses the array of characters is the rape and murder of Little Margaret Wolfchild. The killer, Clarance Gaskill (Hugh Dillon), is a rowdy who hangs out at the Blue Quill pool hall. His conviction for manslaughter , for which he’s sentenced to two years, has a powerful impact on individuals and the community as a whole.
The orbiting vignettes tend to be humorous or poignant. When Silas’ sister Illianna (Lisa LaCroix) returns home with her Anglo husband, Robert (Kevin Hicks), the ensuing tension is less about cultural differences than theirchildlessness.
When it’s revealed that Robert has a low sperm count, a plan is hatched to couple Illianna with an ex-boyfriend while the buddies enlist friends to stage a bogus ritual in which Robert will be inducted into the tribe. The latter section is a comic delight as he dons war paint and proclaims himself the spirit of the wolverine.
Without wearing its sentiment on its sleeve, “Dance Me Outside” subtly conveys the nature of Indian-white tension from the natives’ perspective. They are neither noble nor savage, but an abused minority with quite understandable and deep-seated resentment toward the colonists.
McDonald and co-scenarist Don McKellar construct an ingenious script from the novel by Kinsella (best known for “Shoeless Joe,” which was made for the screen as “Field of Dreams”).
Seemingly episodic and anecdotal, there’s actually little dross to be found. Even the most arcane incident ultimately proves to have profound significance to the central story.
The cast of newcomers is a knockout, with Black and Beach expressing a “Bill & Ted”-type camaraderie textured with more profound considerations. Both are extremely charismatic, and Beach reveals a natural comic flair.
There’s not a weak link among the supporting cast, with special nods to Jennifer Podemski as Silas’ serious, on-and-off-again girlfriend, LaCroix as the sister and Michael Greyeyes as a former reservation bad boy who’s reformed by the harsher realities of life.
An extremely handsome production, “Dance Me Outside” has a stunning sheen thanks to the camerawork of Miroslaw Baszak and John Dondertman’s design. Mychael Danna’s score and the song selections provide the film with a gritty authenticity.