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Review: Wexford Plaza

December 1, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Betty (Reid Asseltine) is a lonely young woman who has just started working as a security guard in a parking lot at a rundown Scarborough strip mall.  But when she makes a pass at bartender Danny (Darrel Gamotin) while he is drunk, both of their lives start to unravel from the awkward and misunderstood encounter.

The feature debut of writer-director Joyce Wong, a local filmmaker who studied cinema at York University, Wexford Plaza is a small, stripped down character drama.  The film offers a raw glimpse into the messy lives of its working class subjects, doing so in a way that feels nuanced and treats both sides fairly.

The film’s small cast of characters also includes a pair of bro-ish fellow security guards, Rich (Francis Melling) and Anton (Mirko Miljevic), but it mainly focuses on Betty and Danny, and does an impressive job of fleshing them out in limited time.

The film employs a clever narrative structure, first showing the events from Betty’s perspective, and then switching focus to show the same things from the side of Danny in the second half.  This gives nuance to the proceedings, with us first viewing the story through a more conventional viewpoint, before the whole dynamic shifts in a way that allows us to see it in a different and entirely more complex light.  It’s this perspective swap that provides the most interesting aspect of Wexford Plaza, and the ambitious narrative structure is nimbly pulled off by Joyce Wong.

I grew up in Scarborough, so this world of sprawling plazas, empty parking lots, long TTC rides and sporadically placed bus stops is familiar to me, and the low rise landscapes of the Toronto suburb have been captured through a gritty and realistic lens by cinematographer Maya Bankovic.  Although named for the real life Wexford Heights Plaza, the film was actually shot at a strip mall in North York, but its gritty ethos and lonely atmosphere feel distinctly Scarborough.

The performances have a lived in quality to them, with Reid Asseltine and Darrel Gamotin both doing a good job of portraying the complexities and internal struggles of their downtrodden characters, in a way that allows us to sympathize with both of them as more of the story is revealed.  This is an accomplished debut for Joyce Wong, suggesting she is a major talent to watch.

Wexford Plaza is now playing in limited release at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto, and at Landmark Cinemas in Whitby.

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