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Life Changes in a Flash: A Retrospective on “Victoria Day”

May 24, 2010

By John C.

It’s hard too believe it’s been nearly a year.  Nearly a year since I sat in a less-than-crowded screening room at the Varsity on the morning of June 1st, watching David Bezmozgis’s wonderful coming-of-age story, Victoria Day, play out on-screen.  Nearly a year since I interviewed the two main actors of Victoria Day, (Mark Rendall & John Mavro), as well as doing an impromptu interview with writer/director David Bezmozgis, at the Metropolitan Hotel in Toronto.  Nearly a year since I awarded that very film 4-stars.

Although not much happens in terms of big plot developments, Victoria Day is the kind of movie where it’s only after it ends that you realize how many layers there actually are to the story.  Each important moment leaves a lasting impression in one way or another, and there is much symbolism in the choice of music and setting.

Taking place in 1988, Victoria Day is the story of Ben, a teenager coming of age in Toronto.  The starting point of the story, however, is when he lends a fellow hockey player, Jordan, five dollars to buy drugs.  When Jordan goes missing, Ben starts a rocky relationship with Jordan’s 15 year old sister, Cayla.  The main characters of Victoria Day are all teenagers – one who is missing and presumed dead, and the other just a few steps from adulthood.

One of the best storytelling choices is the fact that the story with Jordan is never brought forth as the main plot, but rather serves as the starting point for Ben’s inevitable coming of age.  The relationship between Ben and Cayla is one born partly out of lust, and part out of desperation.  We’re not sure if it will work out, or if it even should, but we can always understand why they are drawn together.

Ben’s friends are symbols of the teenaged immaturity that he is starting to outgrow, but can’t quite shake away.  The “fireworks fight” serves as symbolism for our constantly changing lives.  Ben’s broken arm is almost inadvertent rebellion against his father who has pinned all of his hockey playing hopes and dreams on his son.  And at the end, I love the way it allows the Bob Dylan song “Dark Eyes” to wash over the audience as the screen goes black.  The words of that song could have very well served as an inspiration for the story.

I gave the film 4-stars because it was a rare thing to see a movie centered on teenagers that treated its subjects respectfully, without resorting to depressing melodrama or sexual comedy.  It was rarer still for a movie to play out on such an intimate level, yet never making the viewers feel voyeuristic.  It was real and causal, but not mundane, and each note played out in a way that was unashamed in being completely Canadian, yet impossibly universal.

But more importantly I gave the film such a high rating because on that first viewing, seeing the film without a big audience (only several other reviewers) I connected with it on a simple, emotional, and most importantly, personal level.  If big movies are for connecting crowds of people together through a joined experience, than the smaller ones are for connecting one individual within themselves through an experience entirely personal.  It is the best of movies that do both.

It feels like only yesterday that I was in the middle of all of this, yet on the flipside, it feels as if a lot longer than a year has passed.  Such is always the case with the best of memories.  But no matter how much time passes, there is always something to remember.


Read my interview with David Bezmozgis here.

Read my interview with actor Scott Beaudin here.

Read my interview with actors Mark Rendall & John Mavro here.

Read our reviews of the film here.

And here is the link to all of our Victoria Day coverage, over at the One Movie, Five Views Archive.

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