In the same observant spirit as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Room, and The Florida Project, Scarborough provides several perspectives of people trying to survive, whether they know it or not. It’s better than Beasts of the Southern Wild and Room, but it’s not as accomplished as The Florida Project. But then again, Scarborough is its own special film.
Adapted from Catherine Hernandez’s novel of the same name, Scarborough follows intersecting low income families. Before they meet at a literacy program hosted by the empathetic Ms. Hina (Aliya Kanani, in one of my favourite performances of the year), viewers observe the stress and desperation each unit is experiencing; with the added perspective from the children of each family. Directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson, along with their inexperienced young cast, capture a startlingly authentic feeling of being curious during confusion and exhaustion. Meanwhile, most of the older cast portraying parents (some have an acting background, while most are as inexperienced as their younger co-stars) do a terrific job capturing a tough balance between staying optimistic for their children and holding back every emotion to keep from breaking down.
The only unit that doesn’t fit this mould would be Laura’s family. Laura (Anna Claire Beitel) is often left alone while mom (Kristen MacCulloch) gets lost within her drug addiction, and her temperamental dad (Conor Casey) is left to pick up the pieces. While Laura is played exceptionally well by Beitel, MacCulloch and Casey are given one-dimensional material to flesh out their neglectful, dangerous characters. Compared to the other parental characters, Laura’s parents read as heavy-handed stereotypes. The performances still gather the appropriate response from movie goers, but I wish they had more depth (like The Florida Project’s fascinating down-and-out single mother played by Bria Vinaite).
Despite the inclusion of Laura’s aggressive parents, Scarborough is quite nuanced. It’s a film that manages to show support for struggling parents, and serves as a reminder for that same crowd to not forget about their wellbeing during parenthood. It’s a champion for education and recognizing those who mentor and do everything in their power to influence their students academically despite resistance from other challenging factors. Nakhal and Williamson find inventive ways to tell individual stories by shuffling the narrative flow, which affects how each story contributes to the overarching dynamic of the movie’s relationships.
Scarborough, which has been nominated for eleven Canadian Screen Awards, almost walked away with the People’s Choice Award at last year’s TIFF. It’s easy to see how festival folk could have been charmed and emotionally moved by the film. But, it’s also an indication of how this terrific movie has been.able to strike a chord with anyone who watches it. It will continue to do so with future audiences.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie