A 90-year-old woman, rapidly losing her memory and knowing that sooner or later her life will be over, returns to the Manitoba farmhouse she grew up in to try and make peace with her dysfunctional family.
A young boy working in Nova Scotia's treacherous coal mines in the beginning of the 20th century, finds a friend in a pony, one of the ponies used to haul coal up from the tunnels to be used at the railway and steel mill.
A massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Meanwhile, her uptight brother's floundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his healing touch.
Wilby is the name of a small island in the Canadian Maritimes and the name of the main town located on the island. According to residents, there are two types of people who live on Wilby: islanders (people who were born on Wilby) and non-islanders. Among the townsfolk of Wilby are: single mom and recently returned islander Sandra Anderson, who was known as the girl in town with the reputation, something that has not changed in her adult years; Sandra's teen-aged daughter, Emily, who doesn't want to end up like her mother but can only think about making out with her new boyfriend; Buddy French, the local police officer who is having unspoken marital problems with his non-islander wife, Carol, the town realtor whose controlling behavior is pushing her and others around her on the verge of a nervous breakdown; the Mayor, Brent Fisher, who is secretly planning for his life post politics; dyslexic Duck McDonald, the town handyman; and recently separated non-islander Dan Jarvis who, because...Written by
Gay stigma, suicide, teen sex, public corruption, cheating, ambition: just life in your average small town
This web-of-life drama with a dark comedic edge takes place in a small town on the fictional island of Wilby, somewhere off the coast of Nova Scotia. Here we get to know quite a few people, beginning with Dan Jarvis (James Allodi), a video store owner whose wife has just left him. His exquisite despair, agitation and dead serious suicidal impulses are occasioned not only by this loss but, more fundamentally, by the fact that he is being exposed, against his wishes, as a gay man, not a social status often sought in this tight little conservative village.
Jarvis's forced "outing" is part of a more sweeping attack on regular gatherings of homosexuals and drug users at a waterfront park. Turns out that developers are behind the exposes. They're almost drooling in anticipation of establishing a destination golf club with surrounding upscale houses on the now public park land, once they succeed in convincing the townsfolk that the only sure way to keep unsavory characters from corrupting their young people and way of life is to get rid of that park, i.e., by selling it to them, and for a song at that.
We also meet Buddy French (Paul Gross), a straight arrow local cop, and his tightly wound wife Carol (Sandra Oh), who has gotten herself into a chronic dither chasing brass rings in the world of real estate sales. Then there is Sandy Anderson (Rebecca Jenkins), the faded sex queen and mother of teenage daughter Emily (Ellen Page), whom Sandy worries will follow in her own pathetic footsteps.
Rounding out the group of major players in this drama are Wilby's Mayor, Brent Fisher (Maury Chaykin), whose porcine joviality seems overdone, perhaps to cover less seemly activities, and the pivotal character Duck MacDonald (Callum Keith Rennie), an Everyman clad perpetually in overalls, whose gentle manner and near omnipresence suggest that he's a sort of guardian angel placed among these humans to bail them out of trouble. In smaller roles, there's also Irene (Mary Ellen MacLean), a first rate gossip, and Buddy's police partner, Stan (played by the film's writer-director, Daniel McIvor), whose conduct is sometimes nefarious.
I take the trouble to mention all of these people because the film is really more a series of character sketches than a narrative, and because the acting is, with perhaps one exception, uniformly fine. For some viewers, the exception may be Sandra Oh's over-the-top frenzied behavior during much of the film, though certainly there are ambitious control freaks out there in the real world who carry on like she does. (Incidentally, the beauty of Ms. Oh's face is captured stunningly here by DP Rudolf Blahacek, especially in profile in a scene shot while she is driving.)
Some viewers might also wonder whether James Allodi's compulsive suicidal behavior as the deeply suffering Dan Jarvis is also over the top. He keeps making good faith efforts to end his life that are thwarted, sometimes in ways that make you laugh even when your intentions are otherwise. In this darkly funny depiction, MacIvor seems to have borrowed from the drollery of Bud Cort's habitual suicidal poses in "Harold and Maude."
We viewers can also easily see the pain in Jarvis's face and wonder how so many of the town citizens can fail to notice or respond to him. Fact is that in real life this is common. Often people are either too self absorbed or otherwise preoccupied to see pain in others. Or if they do, they gloss over it because they are too busy or are reluctant to intrude, to mind another person's business.
The film offers a wonderful quote from Mark Twain, delivered by Buddy French to Mayor Fisher: "Golf: A good walk ruined." "Wilby" was produced not by Canada's National Film Board, the source of so many wonderful movies from that country, but jointly by the provincial film boards of Nova Scotia and Ontario. The location for the film is actually not an island at all, but rather the town of Shelburne, pop. 2,000, on the southwest coast of the Nova Scotian mainland.) "Wilby" is unlikely to get wide U. S. distribution, and that is unfortunate, because it's a little gem of a movie. My rating: 8/10 (B+). (Seen on 11/28/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.
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