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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 04.17.13] Canada drama

High school tends to be a tedious thing, even if you attend an alternative school where "everyone is a precious snowflake." Such is the case with Molly, the bright, artistic 16 year old at the centre of writer/director Sara St. Onge's feature debut Molly Maxwell.

Molly's smart but aimless, unable or unwilling to stick with any one thing. She's also developed a crush on her English teacher Ben, a young, hip, artist-in-his-own-right who recently joined Phoenix School's staff. When forced to make a decision on an elective, Molly sees her opportunity to strike up a friendship with Ben and decides on photography under the tutelage of her crush.

From the beginning the relationship between Molly and Ben is strained. He's concerned about getting too close and it's never clear why he so easily falls into a romantic entanglement. As one of Molly's girlfriends later comments, he's a 20 something handsome guy - what would he want with a 16 year old girl? Regardless of how charming and smart she is? The problem is that we never find out. It's just a given that something about Molly makes her attractive to Ben.

Molly Maxwell is told exclusively from Molly's perspective, focusing on how the relationship changes the teen and affects both her life at home and at school. It's interesting to watch as Molly's life slowly gets away from her. Her girlfriends stop spending time with her and soon her idyllic home life goes sour as well. She's blind to the changes, too focused on her relationship with Ben and it's not until school officials start sniffing around that Molly begins to realize that perhaps there's something really wrong about what she and Ben are doing.

The movie is at it's best in the moments that Molly shares with her mother who is trying to stay involved in her daughter's life without being controlling. It's an admirable approach but one that isn't always realistic and the movie suffers for it in the final act when the relationship between Ben and Molly comes to light. Molly's mother not only covers for her daughter but later gives her the opportunity for one last encounter with Ben. It's frightening and considering that Molly got herself wrapped up in such a questionable relationship to begin with, ill advised.

Molly Maxwell shares quite a few points with Kate Miles Melville's Picture Day (review) but where Melville's movie delivers a lead character who seems in full control of her life and choices, Molly feels like an aimless teen simply going with the tide. There's also the fact that Onge never properly deals with the fallout of Ben and Molly's relationship and more specifically, that Ben walks away relatively unscathed. Onge clearly marks the relationship as socially unacceptable but fails in properly reprimand the two characters or, on the other end of the scale, presenting these two individuals as the exception to the rule.

Though Molly Maxwell has a lot of good going for it (beautifully shot, great use of music, charismatic performances from Lola Tash and Charlie Carrick as Molly and Ben respectively), the offhanded way in which the complicated relationship between Molly and Ben is handled is disconcerting.

Molly Maxwell opens in Toronto at The Carlton Cinema on April 19.

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Cinemaniac (8 years ago) Reply

If you want simplistic morality tales, Ms. Antunes, I suggest you read a religious text.

This is a fearless and honest work of art. By bringing her semi-autobiographical tale to the screen, Sara St. Onge has brought nuance and complexity to a topic that is often reduced to absurd oversimplification, which also describes your review quite well -- absurd oversimplification. I suggest you revisit the film and keep this in mind this time: Ms. St. Onge based this story on one of her own personal experiences as a teenager. Perhaps it is reality that you find "disconcerting," Ms. Antunes. Hey, that's life. It's often disconcerting.


Cinemaniac (8 years ago) Reply

The director in her own words:

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