“Girl gone wild” describes the young, nubile and overly provoked Ruby, who, in debut helmer Adriana Maggs’ “Grown Up Movie Star,” faces enough crises to come of age a dozen times: Her flaky mom splits, she catches her father getting oral sex from her high school’s hockey coach, and her first bout of sex turns into a bloodbath. Still, all this excess is ameliorated by Tatiana Maslany’s precocious, naturalistic, often enchanting performance, which keeps the movie grounded whenever the narrative gas starts to send it aloft. B.O. returns will be limited, but critical reaction to Maslany will be very favorable.
Although she’s spent a career writing for Canadian TV, Maggs impresses less with her Newfoundland story than with her handling of actors: Scenes between two or more characters — especially those involving 13-year-old Ruby and her sister, Rose (the remarkable Julia Kennedy) — possess an effortless grace and realism, obliterating the kind of distance that’s created each time Maggs ladles another syrupy problem onto Ruby’s emotional plate (which she can barely keep balanced while running amok). One can’t help but wish the problems of Ruby’s life had been limited to simply dire rather than calamitous, disastrous and catastrophic.
Over the opening credits, we hear Ruby’s mother, Lillian (Sherry White), ranting about her “sham marriage,” her suffocated acting career (“I could have won an Oscar!”) and the stranglehold placed on her life by her, shall we say, earthy husband, Ray (Shawn Doyle). Lillian is clearly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and Maggs’ insistence on turning a microwave oven into a metaphor feels odd for a character who’s about to ride off into the West and a flourishing career as a Hollywood crackhead.
The people she leaves behind have to cope as best they can, and they’re not what you’d call a support network. Ruby is bearing down on her own sexuality like a runaway locomotive; Ray, yes, is gay, and was a National Hockey League draft pick until he got caught running a pound of pot back into Canada. Ray’s best friend is Stuart (Jonny Harris), who’s in a wheelchair for reasons that will be revealed later in the film (and can be predicted much earlier).
The sexually stymied Stuart, no surprise, is turned on by Ruby, and takes pictures of her that point up one of the movie’s problems: In order for the pictures to be as explicit as they’d have to be to create such drama, they’d have to qualify as child porn. That’s impossible in a movie like this, but the decision to hold back just waters down the effect and highlights Maggs’ lack of wisdom in showing the pictures at all. A craftier director would have shown us nothing.
While Maggs does full justice to Ruby’s rebellious attitude toward life, she’s also sensitive to adolescent naivete: Faced with her mother’s flight, her father’s conflicted identity and the usual pressures of teen sexuality, Ruby poses as promiscuous without even knowing what that means. It’s troubling but touching, and Maslany — who, quite remarkably, is 24 playing 13 — executes’ Maggs intentions perfectly.
Production values are adequate, although Eliot Brood’s perfectly decent music is used to clumsy, overly deliberate effect.