Thursday, January 06, 2011

Being an actor does not merit the ability to direct

clip_image002After watching "Young Triffie" for the first time on CBC's latenight yesterday I can safely say that I did not miss a hellova lot when the film debuted in Halifax back in 2005.From her crusading stint on CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes as Marg, Princess Warrior, to the way she put a certain highly-placed Nova Scotia MP in his place for mistaking Halifax for Hogtown, it seems there's nothing that Mary Walsh can't do -- and do brilliantly. Then again, having endured Young Triffie, the movie that marks Walsh's feature-film directorial debut, maybe we should make that "almost nothing she can't do." Turns out, when it comes to directing movies, Martin Scorsese and John Ford need not lose much sleep over competition from Walsh. As a movie, Young Triffie no doubt made a damn fine play, which is precisely how it started out.
Written by Ray Guy under the title "Young Triffie's Been Made Away With," it seems to have enjoyed quite a success among discerning theatre goers on The Rock during its stage incarnation. As a film though it could have read "Young Triffie has been made away with by Mary Walsh." and nobody with a sense of the theatre would have even noticed. Mr. Guy may never sleep the same after seeing one of his great masterpieces being thrown to the dogs.
But then that's where Young Triffie, both play and subsequent movie, is set, specifically in Swyers Harbour -- a small, fictional Newfoundland outport, circa 1947.
It is to Swyers Harbour that an inept Newfoundland Ranger (Corner Gas' Fred Ewanuick) is sent packing to investigate what appears to be the ritual sacrifice of a sheep.
This being 1947 Newfoundland, and the Ranger being particularly inept, he arrives in town blissfully unaware that circumstances have outstripped him. He will now be investigating the murder of young Triffie herself, she being the unfortunate and simple young daughter of a local crackpot evangelist (wonderfully played by Andy Jones).
Adapted from the stage play by Christian Murray, Young Tiffie boasts a plot that embraces not only murder but pedophilia, incest, drug addiction, religious zealotry and a host of other societal ills. All serve as comic fodder for a cast that also includes Remy Girard (as the local doctor) and Andrea Martin (forever miscast; as his meddling wife), Colin Mochrie (as Ewaniuck's commanding officer), Cathy Jones (as a local busy-body) and Walsh herself, cast as post mistress and purveyor of red herring, which in this case is a darn sight more prevalent than cod.
In short, it's the kind of comedy that a more experienced director might mind from a cast of dramatic actors, as opposed to a clutch of comedians.
With the comics in control there is no bit of comic business too picayune, no characterization too over-the-top, to allow it to go to waste, even at the expense of paltry considerations such as dramatic arc and storyline.
So instead of a cracking good yarn with comedic overtones, viewers are subjected to Ewaniuk's best impersonation of Mr. Bean does Buena Vista (the portugese name for Bonavista Bay aka "Oh Happy Site") , while Martin does her best to keep up with the tightly wound Joneses. Of all the roles I have seen Andy Jones perform in this is by far I think his gem. He did not just play the part he was the part. Then again that being said Ronald Reagan played the lead in "King Rat" and we all know that cutting a man's leg off well it does give one a wonderful prop. In the end, almost everybody -- except perhaps Newfoundland itself -- comes off looking totally daft.
And to think that it previewed with the words…"See some of Newfoundlands finest actors strut their stuff." Scarey! Bloody Scarey!
God forbid that Mr. Guy would allow anyone from this friendly circus to touch "That Far Greater Bay."

"Paws off! Paws off! The lot a ye"

As a film director, Walsh still needs to learn what she apparently already knows as an actor: Concentrate on telling the story, and trust your audience to find the humour. Talk about Filme Horribilis.

"She's not the same since the Doctor put her on the new pills............nor will she ever be"
R. Brentnall

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