Review: ‘Whole New Thing’

Pleasant, moderately offbeat "Whole New Thing" follows "Off the Map" and "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" in examining the growing pains of a kid raised in social isolation by aging-hippie parents. Beyond that basic framework, there's not much story overlap between those pics and this diverting latest from director Amnon Buchbinder and co-writer-thesp Daniel McIvor.

Pleasant, moderately offbeat “Whole New Thing” follows “Off the Map” and “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” in examining the growing pains of a kid raised in social isolation by aging-hippie parents. Beyond that basic framework, there’s not much story overlap between those pics and this diverting latest from director Amnon Buchbinder and co-writer-thesp Daniel McIvor. Yet like the duo’s separate prior projects behind the camera, “Thing” suffers the familiar curse of Canadian seriocomedy — just nice enough in content and stylistically like a telepic. Prospects look mild.

The almost insufferably precocious Emerson Thorsen (Aaron Webber) has been home-schooled by parents Kaya (Rebecca Jenkins) and Rog (Robert Joy). But now that he’s entering adolescence, mom worries his education and social skills have grown too far removed from the real-world.

Reluctantly enrolled in the local public high school, Emerson flaunts an intelligence, arrogance and androgyny that vex and intimidate his rural Nova Scotia classmates, resulting in bloody noses as well as grudging acceptance. His mature, well-versed intellect impresses English instructor Don (McIvor), even raising the level of classroom discourse.

But as the very forward, bisexually inclined (if still virginal) boy develops a crush on his teacher, he pursues it without grasping how even the appearance of impropriety might be enough to get Don fired — or jailed. His parents’ enlightened philosophies regarding love and sex haven’t prepared him at all for mainstream rules.

Meanwhile, Rog, having a mid-life-crisis, discovers his neglect has nudged Kaya into an affair with a working-class local (Callum Keith Rennie). And closet-case Don, who has enough problems without adding an amorous 13-year-old male student to the mix, worries that his decision to leave his big city life (and a lover) some years back might have become a life-ruining misjudgment.

All figures are credibly drawn and played, with professional debutant Webber easily holding his own in a challenging role. But despite their surface quirks, characters are only modestly interesting, as are the situations they get into.

Ending stays true to form, in that it’s at once mildly satisfying and a small letdown. There’s a diligent, low-key craftsmanship at work throughout that seldom makes false moves, but doesn’t take any major risks, either. “Thing” arguably reps a more smoothly drawn look at countercultural parent-child dynamics than either “Off the Map” or “Ballad.” Yet both those uneven films leave a more lasting imprint.

Design and tech contribs are solid if undistinguished.

Whole New Thing

Canada

Production

A ThinkFilm presentation of a Palpable Prods. and Acuity Pictures production. Produced by Camelia Frieberg, Kelly Bray. Executive producer, Frieberg. Directed by Amnon Buchbinder. Screenplay, Buchbinder, Daniel McIvor.

Crew

Camera (color), Christopher Ball; editor, Angela Baker; music, David Buchbinder; production designer, Bill Fleming; costume designer, Lin Chapman; sound (Dolby Digital), Jim Rillie, Jane Tattersall, Al Ormerod; assistant director, Mary Reynolds. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 13, 2005. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Rebecca Jenkins, Robert Joy, Daniel MacIvor, Callum Keith Rennie, Aaron Webber, Kathryn MacLellan, Drew O'Hara, Hugh Thompson, Jackie Torrens.
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