In large part thanks to dynamite perfs from newcomers Liane Balaban and Tara Spencer Nairn, “New Waterford Girl” is an extremely likable coming-of-age comedy that effectively captures a slice of teen angst, Cape Breton-style. Funny tale of one girl’s attempt to escape small-town life in rural Nova Scotia in the mid-’70s is charming, though there are a few uneven moments along the way and the cast is not uniformly strong. Pic reps a return to indie form for up-and-down helmer Allan Moyle, and it could have fairly broad appeal in Canada. It may also attract interest from U.S. specialty distribs willing to take a chance on something off the beaten path.
Mooney Pottie (Balaban) is one seriously unhappy teenager. The 15-year-old is stuck in the tiny coal-mining burg of New Waterford, Cape Breton, on Canada’s east coast, and she doesn’t fit in with the rough-and-ready locals or her country-bumpkin family. One of her teachers, Cecil Sweeny (Andrew McCarthy), recognizes her talents and succeeds in placing her in an elite arts school in Manhattan. But Mooney’s parents nip that idea in the bud, insisting she remain at home.
Things begin to look up for Mooney when she befriends new neighbor Lou (Spencer Nairn), a feisty daughter of a famous boxer from the Bronx. In one of the more memorable twists here, it turns out that Lou also has a fairly effective fighting style, and, when the local girls find out about her unique talents, they have her punching out their two-timing boyfriends. Lou’s unusual sucker punch automatically knocks down guys if they have a guilty conscience. Meanwhile, Mooney cooks up a scheme to escape the little town she loathes.
Moyle keeps things down-home throughout, relying on no-frills humor, straight-ahead emotions and evocative lensing from Derek Rogers that perfectly captures the rugged, windswept landscapes of the region. On the downside, though , Moyle and scripter Tricia Fish fail to infuse Mooney and Lou’s relationship with enough depth. Similarly, the portrait of Mooney’s parents occasionally leans too close to caricature. But the pic is often very funny and, in the end, surprisingly moving.
Much of the credit for that goes to the two young leads. Balaban, who has a striking screen presence, creates a nuanced character who’s a mix of morose moodiness and independent grit. Spencer Nairn has just the right sense of fun for the outgoing Lou. Mary Walsh and Nicholas Campbell are less effective as Mooney’s parents, while McCarthy seems out of place in the role of the lonely, maladjusted schoolteacher.
Soundtrack features slew of vintage rock numbers, with tunes by many ’70s-era Canuck acts, including April Wine and the Stampeders.