Picture Day (2013) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA rated: R for sexual content, drug use, drinking and language, all involving teens
Running time: 93 min.
Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Spencer Van Wyck, Steven McCarthy, Susan Coyne, Fiona Highet, Mark DeBonis, Catherine Fitch, Monica Dottor, Joanne Boland, Melissa Jane Shaw
Director: Kate Miles Melville
Screenplay: Kate Miles Melville
Tatiana Maslany (The Messengers, The Vow) stars as Claire, an eighteen-year-old who has been held back for one more year of high school (she calls it, "Grade 13") in Toronto due to her inability to take their courses seriously enough to complete them. She doesn't really fit in with her classmates, or life in general, but that doesn't stop her from making up her own good time of it. Lately, Claire has gotten involved with Jim (McCarthy, The Skulls), the 33-year-old frontman of a rock-funk-glam band. She eventually befriends another misfit, a freshman named Henry (Van Wyck, Never Cry Werewolf), whom she once used to babysit before he hit puberty in a big way. She aims to help Henry in the ways she didn't have, by spiffing up his look, and giving him advice to help him score with women. What she doesn't know is that Henry has had a crush on her for years.
Picture Day is the debut directorial effort for television writer Kate Miles Melville (Degrassi Takes Manhattan, Elizabeth Rex), who blends comedy and drama for this indie coming-of-age story. It's a character-driven piece, as quirky as you might expect from a Canadian independent release about high school teens, but fine performances and acute observations manage to keep the loose storyline afloat. Though primarily a comedy, Picture Day doesn't evoke many laughs in sitcom fashion, but it does amuse due to the situations that develop for these outcast characters. Maslany and Van Wyck due a fine job with their nuanced roles, genuinely coming off as two square pegs that could find friendship within each other, and their interaction generates most of the film's cutest moments.
Not all of the film is amusing. Claire's home life is nearly nonexistent, with a mother (Highet, Saint Ralph) suffering what appears to be a state of major depression and loneliness about her life, to the point where she barely cares what her daughter is up to save for how it affects her own situation. Claire also shares that lonely restlessness, and as hard as she tries to be devil-may-care, she does have a vulnerability beneath it all, though she only learns that what she's doing isn't ideal until it is done to her. Just as she did in school, Claire must learn some hard lessons in life before she's given a pass to move on to adulthood.
Picture Day is recommended for viewers who enjoy small indie flicks about the folly of youthful rebellion, with teenagers who learn the importance of such things as sexuality, peer pressure, education, and growing up. It's a mostly plotless, character-driven piece, but its occasional insightfulness still manages to cover over the lack of structure in a satisfying way. Even so, the indie soundtrack is perhaps its best asset.
©2013 Vince Leo