By: Jessica Goddard
Wexford Plaza was one of the best films of 2017, and it was also a finalist for the Toronto Film Critic Association’s award for Best Canadian Film. As the film celebrates its home release on digital platforms, I reached out to writer/director Joyce Wong to ask about her feature debut, its universal story, and her personal connection to the film.
Jessica Goddard: There’s a real Wexford Plaza in Scarborough, and the movie is set in Toronto, but that plaza is not where you filmed or where the story seems to take place. Is the film based around any particular plaza you had a connection to growing up?
Joyce Wong: There’s a “Wexford Heights Plaza” in Scarborough. The plaza in the film is based on the distinct architecture of the plazas in the Wexford area. There are many neighborhoods in Scarborough and they each have their own distinct personality and aesthetic. For example, the strip malls in Agincourt and Malvern areas look and feel different than the ones in the Wexford area.
JG: You’ve spoken before about how one of the things this movie is about is the false promise of the American dream. If the abandonment and disrepair of the strip mall parallels the hopelessness of the characters, does this suggest there is also no hope for the futures of these characters, who have been, in some ways, abandoned as well?
JW: The characters are “left behind”, but there’s always hope. The ending is the way it is because I wanted it to feel realistic. This is what actually happens, not a “Disneyfied” portrayal that we are so used to seeing in mainstream Hollywood films.
JG: Wexford Plaza is divided into two perspectives, but begins with the point-of-view of the female lead. Is there any reason we’re given her version of events first, as opposed to the other way around?
JW: As a lonely security guard that works at a rundown plaza, Betty’s story provides a more relatable entry into world of the film than Danny’s story. His requires a lot more set-up, and there are many elements that don’t draw the viewer in unless you have the context of Betty’s story first.
JG: The film takes place in the present day, so cell phones and text-based communication were bound to play a role. As a filmmaker, was it challenging to find an interesting way of presenting digital conversation through this medium?
JW: We looked at references (i.e. Jane the Virgin) that used texting as a tool to convey narrative beats of the scene. For me, that was very important; to convey important elements of the narrative through texting and not just have it as a visual texture.
JG: To what extent would you say there’s a villain in Wexford Plaza’s story?
JW: There is no human villain in this film. The characters in the film aren’t out to harm or create obstacles for one another. They’re just missing information, as shown by the gaps in each of their stories. This causes them to act in ways that create complications and unintended consequences. The characters aren’t malicious nor they are stupid either, they’re just lacking the context to make informed decisions. Maybe the only true villain is the gaps in information.
JG: I found this film distinctly reflective of the times we’re living in, though somehow timeless and universal as well. As the writer, would you agree? Do you feel that the insights of the film are specific to here and now, or could this movie just as easily take place ten years ago or ten years from now?
JW: The feeling of being an outsider and left behind is something universal. My particular interpretation of the Scarborough strip mall is very specific to my own lived experience. This film has both elements that are universal and specific. I think that’s why audiences have been drawn to it. They get pulled by the specificity, but stay because of the universal themes.
Read my review of Wexford Plaza here!