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Pip is a street kid who's meeting life head-on in the big city. On his eighteenth birthday he receives his grandfather's World War II memoirs on audio cassette, a gift that awakens the ghost of the long lost world. His grandfather relates the story of the day he turned eighteen, fleeing German forces through the woods of France with a dying comrade hanging on for life. In Pip's own and contemporary way, he begins to live the parallel life of his grandfather, both lost in their environments and generations. Along Pip's path he stumbles into an unlikely alliance with Clark, a gay street hustler on the make, and Jenny, an aspiring social worker who tempts Pip with feelings of love and domesticity. He also forges a small but important relationship with a local priest, in whom he confides his deepest secret: the death of his brother and the heinous act his father committed against him before his death.Written by
EIGHTEEN as written and directed by Richard Bell may have a few too many stories to tell simultaneously for a 102 minute movie to completely succeed, but there is such a fine sense of commitment on the part of all the cast and crew that the viewer ends up wanting the movie to work - and so it does. Yes, aspects could have been finessed if the producers had more money to spend on the final cut, but as a small independent movie from Canada this is a tender, gently humorous, very touching tale about vulnerability and communication and commitment. It works on many levels.
In a very well choreographed opening we are voyeurs at a family dinner where obviously something has gone awry and results in a father and two sons taking off in a car and having an accident in which one of the sons is killed. With an introduction like that the mood is set for the surviving 18-year old Pip son (Paul Anthony - looking far too old for credibility as a teenager) to desert his family and live on the streets. He meets Clark (Clarence Sponagle) a male prostitute who gives Pip food and shelter, Jenny (the very fine Carly Pope) who saves him from a bashing by her associate Derek (Ryan McDonell) and becomes romantically entangled with Pip, and Father Chris (Alan Cumming) in a finely wrought sympathetic role as a priest. It is Pip's 18th birthday and his father (Serge Houde) traces Pip down to give him a present from his deceased grandfather with instructions the gift should be opened on Pip's 18th birthday.
Pip, though drinking too much and full of anger, pawns the tape machine but keeps the tape and begins to listen to the words of his grandfather Jason (voice by Ian McKellen) who recounts his own 18th birthday in WW II in France where he (now the very sensitive actor Brendan Fletcher) has an experience with a wounded medic named Macauley (Mark Hildreth, also superb) and reflects on his one night marriage with a cabaret singer Hannah (Thea Gill of 'Queer as Folk' fame and a fine singer and actress here), only for something to live for during the war: Jason offers succor to Macauley as he dies, with a beautiful scene of redemption for he two men at the end. The parallels of Pip and grandfather Jason interplay every time Pip listens to the tape and lead Pip to ultimately alter his view of life and love. Subplots include Clark's isolated existence as a hustler being altered by Jeff (David Beazely - in a surprisingly fine film debut) who simply wants to be loved; by an unexpected pregnancy between Jenny and Pip; by the trust Father Chris instills in both Pip and Clark in a good shepherd's manner: and by a flashback to the car accident where Pip could have saved his brother Daniel (Paul Dzenkiw) from an abusive act at the hands of his father, just before the accident, but failed to do so, opening his deep guilt and resultant misplaced anger, mirrored by his grandfather's taped experiences. Each of these subplots pulls together at the end, creating a sense of closure for each of the people involved.
There are aspects of this film that make it seem like a big budget production: the musical score by Bramwell Tovey is performed by the Vancouver Symphony members, the cinematography by Kevin Van Niekerk is aptly atmospheric, and the general quality of acting by this Canadian cast is very fine. Though Paul Anthony handles his role well, casting a very young teenager in the pivotal main role would have made the story work much better, and Richard Bell, with only one other film 'Two Brothers' on his resume, gives promise of a young talent to watch. Despite the shortcomings, EIGHTEEN is a worthwhile film and deserves attention. Grady Harp
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