A tragically troublesome story involving a 14-year-old executing a fellow eighth grader by aiming and shooting a gun at their head during class seems about as open-and-shut as cases come. However, filmmaker Marta Cunningham explores the event from every angle to get every side of the story that she can in Valentine Road.
It isn’t because she’s suspicious and smelling something fishy in the events leading up to this kill. As a devoted documentarian, she wants to show a fair view from every perspective. You may not agree with what’s being said – and believe me, there’s no middle ground here – but, you’ll appreciate Cunningham’s courage and incredible ability to search for answers that better stabilize both sides of the story.
Lawrence “Larry” King was very much “out”. Classmates and teachers, on the other hand, weren’t as confident as young King. Larry King, who came from a less-than-decent lifestyle, found that by embracing his unique qualities he would feel more fulfilled – even if others saw these normalities as differentials.
Brandon McInerney, who was approached by Larry and asked to be his valentine, was one of these other people who didn’t agree with King’s expressiveness for whatever reason. Some adults see his knee-jerk anger aimed towards King’s homosexuality, thinking Larry’s flamboyant personality made McInerney feel bullied. Others also link McInerney’s violent antics as a product of unfit parenting as well as to the fact that accessible guns and ammunition were within arms reach. It could even be related to McInerney’s inappropriate and racist draws in his notebook, triggering him to go after King for his mixed ethnicity.
It’s all upsetting, unsettling, and heartbreaking, but I’m glad the documentary travels on this route. It’s important to see how McInerney – who stayed very clean and didn’t create trouble prior to the events – was labeled as a “bigot” by the media, immediately latching on to the fact that Larry was openly gay. It’s important to see how Larry emotionally touched his friends and other teachers who felt the shockwave and were critically affected by this disaster.
With Downloaded and now Valentine Road, there’s something I’m finding absolutely enthralling about this innovative approach to the documentary genre. This story about the murder of Larry King is told in a digestible and fluent narrative format without using fast editing to string thoughts together. Cunningham applies a little bit of Christopher Nolan’s Memento telling a portion of the story and then rewinding to a time before the crime. And, then telling that portion just to rewind even further. It’s greatly effective and chilling while also being insightful.
Valentine Road isn’t telling any tales out of school and while the film is telling you both sides of the story, Cunningham is never yelling at her audience to sympathize with one person – or one group of people – in particular. She trusts her audience will have enough competence to put together their own feelings with the proof provided.
It’s a skillful, brilliant documentary crafted by a filmmaker who has found the perfect balance between telling truths and delivering a story that has us on the edge of our seat every step of the way.
Catch Valentine Road at:
Saturday, May 25 at 5:00 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox
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