2 min

Mostly wonderful

Gentle, whimsical humour

Credit: Xtra files

Wilby Wonderful is theatre wunderkind Daniel MacIvor’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to his 2002 feature film, Past Perfect. Where his debut focussed on a couple, his new work is an ensemble drama – starring some of the best English Canadian talent – that charts the experiences of several characters over 24 hours in the small island town of Wilby, Nova Scotia. This particular day is important for it is one of the last before the names of the men caught in a raid of the gay cruising area Wilby Watch are to be published in the local newspaper, which has potentially devastating consequences for anyone living a closeted gay existence.

Video store clerk Dan (James Allodi) repeatedly attempts suicide after his wife leaves him; local handyman Duck (Callum Keith Rennie) is the strong, silent type but tries to connect with Dan; career-driven real estate agent Carol (Sandra Oh) is drifting apart from her husband, the good-natured, honest cop Buddy (Paul Gross); and greasy-spoon owner Sandra (Rebecca Jenkins) seeks to fight her reputation as the town whore while her teenage daughter Emily (Ellen Page) embarks on her awkward first relationship.

Despite occasionally dark subject matter (a suicidal queer disrupting daily small-town life), the film plays out with a folksy charm and innocence. The film is marked by its quiet, unassuming yet probing observations of life in Wilby, the repression and conformity, the intolerance and lack of privacy that one would assume, but also the principled resistance to these attitudes. It soon becomes apparent that Wilby can never be immune from “the mainland,” that mythic otherworld of sin, anonymity and difference that the islanders define themselves against.

The whimsical humour of Wilby Wonderful is very gentle but effective, reaching a crescendo in a strikingly minimalist scene involving Carol and Dan in an empty house moments before the mayor (Maury Chaykin) arrives for a tour.

The film’s only shortcoming is that MacIvor and his actors must occasionally go overboard playing the characters’ emotional self-discoveries. This is not so much the fault of the remarkable performers as a challenge inherent in the film’s day-in-the-life conceit: It is difficult to realistically show the transformative moments and life-altering realizations of a large ensemble all occurring on the same day. However, the film still succeeds by asking vital questions not only about the potential of a small-town out gay life, but about the difficulty of challenging entrenched attitudes, values and behaviour in oneself and in others. As if to acknowledge the concessions that must be made, the film ends not with a passionate kiss but with a tentative embrace.

* Wilby Wonderful is now playing at the Carlton and Canada Square.