The hero of “Victoria Day” doesn’t quite come of age, but he realizes he’ll have to in writer-helmer David Bezmozgis’ tale of late-’80s Toronto teenagers — one of whom disappears like Amelia Earhart, endowing this Canadian production with an undercurrent of apprehension. Unknown cast won’t help the understated drama’s way into U.S. theaters, but thematic elements are just right for thinking teen auds.
The year is 1988: Wayne Gretzky is leading the Edmonton Oilers against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, and perestroika is loosening up immigration out of the Soviet Union. Ben Spektor (Mark Rendall) is a Bob Dylan-loving, hormonally discomfited Canadian of Russian parents — Russian-Jewish parents, judging from the Yiddishisms his father Yuri (Sergiy Kotelenets) tosses off.
Ben has clearly grown up in Canada — he speaks English even in answer to his Russian-speaking dad and mom (Nataliya Alyexeyenko). They aren’t recent emigres and live in a universe that predates 1988: Yuri’s distrust of the police, for instance, has “KGB” written all over it.
So life is a little more complicated for Ben than it is for his whacky pals Sammy (John Mavro) and Noah (Scott Beaudin), although he’s not immune to peer pressure: When his hockey-team antagonist, Jordan (Mitchel Amaral), goads him into giving up $5 so Jordan can buy drugs — and then disappears without a trace — Ben has to deal with guilt, fear and what the heck to do.
Rendall is a bit too low-key and introspective to carry the movie alone. Fortunately he’s got the comical sidekicks to help out, as well as Holly Deveaux, who, as Cayla, Jordan’s 15-year-old sister and the object of Ben’s fascination, does a splendid job of internalizing the general angst of adolescence and the added anxiety caused by her MIA brother.
“Victoria Day” (a very Canadian holiday) is expertly put together, the editing and framing so sturdy and right that the twin currents of the film flow over the viewer unimpeded. On one hand, Ben is living a standard existence: He’s torn between the virginal Cayla and Melanie (Melanie Leishman), who gives him sex; his father is on his back about hockey, which Yuri sees as a way to help Ben avoid the kind of life he’s had. And at the same time, the dull drone of Jordan’s disappearance, which everyone chalks up to a drug binge, can be heard between every line of dialogue.
“Victoria Day” is not a thriller by any means, but as a morality tale, it has an edge as well as a professional sheen.