There was a moment in Anita Doron’s desolate, poignant and starkly beautiful adaptation of Richard Van Camp’s novel when Joel Evans character of Larry Sole crystallized not only as a real person for me, but as a lens to view my own youth (admittedly nowhere near as troubling, but there were pieces of my own teen years that I recognized).
It comes about a quarter of the way into the film when Larry’s friend Johnny Beck (Kiowa Gordon) is talking about having sex with Juliet Hope (Chloe Rose) talking about how she’s too bony for his taste. I just felt for Larry, who has crushed on this girl since he first saw her, knowing that if given the chance he could love her and treat her as she should be treated, and here’s his friend who is talking about his sexual relationship with her so dismissively, almost derisively.
I have been in that moment too many times for comfort.
The desolation is not only the landscape (filmed in Sudbury, Ontario) but emotionally as well, as children grow up far too quickly, playing at adults. Johnny mentions it twice, once when talking about his younger brother Donny (Lucius Hoyos), who is a scene-stealer, and once referring to himself. None of the characters can seem to connect, and even when they do, tenuously through affection or violence, none of them are truly revealing all of themselves. They all have parts they keep hidden, like the burns that cover Larry’s body, a memento of scarred flesh for the secret he keeps.
Joel Evans, who had never acted in a film before is captivating as he struggles to find his way to not only manhood but to discover himself, find forgiveness for his past, and see his mother, Verna (Tamara Podemski) be happy with the man in her life, Jed (Benjamin Bratt), who Larry is trying to connect with as well.
He imbues Larry with a presence and reality that makes his performance effortless, wavering on the edge of lonely outsider. A role I often saw myself in, though my recent trip home and speaking to old friends revealed this to be my one-sided perception of events.
Chloe Rose can simply take you in with her eyes, she belongs on the big screen. Watching her as she falls for the wrong guy, as she sees who Larry really is, one forgets, much like you do with Joel, that you are viewing a performance.
Kiowa is alternately very likable, as the only kid that befriends Larry, who has a troubled relationship with everyone in school it seems, but no one more than the menacing Darcy McManus (Adam Butcher), and someone I wouldn’t actually want to know. I think Johnny is well aware that Larry feels something for Juliet, but he’s quite happy to use her until things sour for him.
And none of them seem to have any ability to deal with their problems, they make their messes, but are kept from dealing with them by the refrain of their just being kids, moving at the whim of their parents and detention being the only real structure or punishment they’re given.
Tamara’s performance of Verna, and Bratt’s role as Jed try to anchor Larry to the world, hoping to guide him, while trying to figure themselves out, as both of them, like every other character is broken in someway; hurt. They are also the only two real adults seen through the course of the movie, there is a teacher Mr. Harrister (David Boyce) who seems ineffectual not only as a teacher but as an adult role model, there’s Johnny’s heard but never seen father and mother, and Juliet’s aunt (Krista Bridges) doesn’t seem much older than Juliet. Neither Verna nor Jed are perfect, they are both brutally flawed but for all that, it’s obvious that they both want what is best for Larry, and are trying to find a way to reach him.
Tamara is simply amazing, a woman, who in her time, has been beaten so hard that her tear ducts no longer work and is now scared to open herself up to love again, continuing the emotional desolation that permeates the film.
That Larry is a young man of First Nations upbringing is incidental, this could be the tale of any young man, although it does serve to isolate his character even more, with Johnny being the only other First Nations kid around.
In the end Larry confronts all of his actions, and while the other youths around him remain passive and let their respective families decide what’s best for them, it is Larry who takes his first steps to defining who he is by deciding what he wants.
The Lesser Blessed is currently screening in Toronto, and is adding other Canadian cities on June 7th! Check your local listings and take a look at this gorgeously crafted film.