Review: ‘Down to the Dirt’

A portrait of the artist as a young wreck, "Down to the Dirt" is an uneven yet flavorful adaptation of Joel Thomas Hynes’ autobiographical novel, with the author playing his own alter ego — an aspiring poet who spends time drinking, drugging, vomiting, vandalizing and being pursued by police in his native rural Newfoundland.

A portrait of the artist as a young wreck, “Down to the Dirt” is an uneven yet flavorful adaptation of Joel Thomas Hynes’ autobiographical novel, with the author playing his own alter ego — an aspiring poet who spends time drinking, drugging, vomiting, vandalizing and being pursued by police in his native rural Newfoundland. Many viewers will find time spent with this hapless screw-up two hours too many, but the pic does at least partly capture the source material’s rambunctious gallows humor. Exposure inside Canada will be limited; outside, scant.

Keith Kavanagh (Hynes) is a smalltown scourge — kicked out by parents, blamed (oft correctly) for everything from trashed cars to arson. He moves with g.f. Natasha (Mylene Savoie) to comparatively bustling St. Johns; fed up, she soon splits for Halifax. Deciding on a surprise visit, he liquors himself into a ruinous state before even reaching her door. Dialogue and narration in the screenplay (oddly not by the author/star) are occasionally flat, but in screen presence and voiceover delivery, Hynes sustains the book’s raffish tone. Aptly grungy package is adequate, though staging and soundtrack choices are uninspired.

Down to the Dirt

Canada

Production

A Mongrel Media presentation of a Newfoundland Film, Darius Films production. Produced by Anna Petras, Justin Simms. Executive producers, Nicholas Tabarrok, Jennice Ripley. Directed, edited by Justin Simms. Screenplay, Simms, Sherry White, based on the novel by Joel Thomas Hynes.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16-to-35mm), Jordan Lynn; music, Mark Bragg; production designer, Pam Hall. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Canada First!), Sept. 8, 2008. Running time: 116 MIN.

With

Joel Thomas Hynes, Mylene Savoie, Robert Joy, Hugh Dillon, Phil Churchill, Jody Richardson, Glenn Downey, Sherry White, Mary Lewis, Paula Morgan, Steve Cochrane, Jane Maggs.

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