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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.12.10] Canada movie review comedy drama

Year: 2010
Director: Nick McAnulty
Writer: Nick McAnulty
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8 out of 10

Twisted. That’s the first word that comes to mind in describing Nick McAnulty’s directorial debut Uncle Brian.

A darkly comedic drama, Uncle Brian stars Daniel MacLean as the titular character, a high school student on the road to nowhere. Smart and bored, Brian spends most of his time drinking, sleeping with his best friend’s mother and generally getting himself into trouble. When a fellow student charges him with rape, Brian’s life is turned upside down (apparently things can get worse). At the urging of his guidance counsellor and in effort to avoid more serious trouble, Brian registers for AA but continues to spend his days drinking and getting high but when his friend is beaten up because of Brian’s actions, the young man sets out to clean himself up to be a better role model for his soon to be born nephew. Too bad his reformation comes a little too late.

What’s best about McAnulty’s film is that it doesn’t fit any of the conventional bad boy high school movies that have come before it. At every turn, it works to define itself as different and defy the conventions we have come to expect. Brian is a largely unlikable character and really, there isn’t one character in this story, expect perhaps Brian’s sister, who one can get behind. This is a world of dysfunction, with one character only slightly less crazy than Brian whose world only ever seems to work in overdrive and on things gone wrong.

It’s never quite clear why Brian has turned to alcohol and antisocial tendencies though his outsider status is certainly a good starting point. His mother seems uninterested in her troubled son, only showing up to bail him out of jail with a soft reprimand, and his school mates turn a blind eye to the obviously unfriendly character. The fact that a girl is at all interested in Brian seems a bit shocking until you realize that he’s the bad boy with a soft side who is just misunderstood (though Brian himself would tell you not to buy that bullshit excuse).

MacLean plays Brian with unflinching machismo only occasionally dropping his guard to reveal a softer side and when it comes across, one can’t help but wonder what he’s really plotting. Some may raise an eyebrow at the obviously older actors portraying high school students but McAnulty’s choice to cast capable actors rather than filling the film with actors incapable of filling the roles but who look the part is spot on and it’s a small fault to overlook for actors who can actually manage to carry the weight and emotion of the characters.

Some may be turned off at the risky material which walks the fine line between dark comedy and outright absurdity but Uncle Brian walks that line with head held high and comes out the other side swinging. And if you start to wonder what sort of cliff the film has fallen off of in the last 10 minutes, just stay tuned. There’s no Hollywood happy ending here and in keeping with the film’s “too little too late” message, the closing scene comes out of seemingly nowhere but stays true to both the character and the story.

A brilliant little piece of Canadian goodness, Uncle Brian is unlikely to see life outside the festival circuit if only because of its unflinching approach to the ugly subjects it tackles but for those happy to walk outside their comfort zone (or who always live here), if only for 90 minutes, will find more than enough to love in McAnulty’s debut. I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve for a follow up.

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