Friday 6 December 2013

Brightwood (2012)

Director: L Gabriel Gonda
Stars: Lauren-Brooks Wilson, Jonah Beres, Sam Motley and Stefan Hajek
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
Brightwood is one of those playful pieces that suckers us into the whimsical world of a child, showing us the wonder of youth at an unpressured time of discovery, only to gradually sneak in a dark side, raise it into focus and endow the whole film with a haunting, unsavoury feel. In short, it succeeds in giving us a quirky movie escape and then grounding it in uncomfortable reality. The lead character is a ten year old girl named Sparrow, who wakes before the rest of her household one morning and sets off on a journey of apparent delight. Most of it is routine, the one new addition being the discovery in her sock drawer of a pair of baby mice, which she carries with her on her travels, possibly safe in a cigar box in her bicycle basket, all wrapped up in cotton wool. Much of what she interacts with is found, only beginning with the mice. Her bike ride feels like an unhurried scavenger hunt in which she's tasked to find assorted objects in the woods; a piece of blue glass here, a candle in a bottle there, a book where you'd least expect it.

The score is upbeat too, quietly bouncy, as befits the hope of a new day, especially one in Seattle when it isn't raining. Lauren-Brooks Wilson is well cast as Sparrow. She's an engaging enough child to retain our attention in a variety of well shot locations, from the Pacific Ocean off San Juan Island to a disused school bus that someone has apparently made into their home, but she's not so infuriatingly cute that she smothers the whole thing. She's clearly capable enough to take care of herself but frustrated when she comes up against something that she doesn't understand. Here, that prompts a violent response as she tries to feed the baby mice a biscuit. I wanted more emotion in this scene but perhaps it was more appropriate that she didn't show it, given what we're to discover later about her and her family. Life is not the idyllic rural dream that it might have initially seemed for Sparrow. The discoveries we make in our first viewing flavour our take on it all during a return visit.

There's a good deal of joy here, but there's also a great deal of sorrow, much of it swept under the rug but never quite forgotten. The story is told ambiguously enough that we're not sure exactly what we're to take away from it. Presumably the two baby mice are a parallel to Sparrow and Timber, her younger brother, so are we supposed to see their reconciliation with a neatly animated mother mouse as naive hope in a future happy family for the children? Are we supposed to focus instead on how near to death the baby mice came and how little Sparrow and Timber can really offer them going forward? If I was a gambling man, I wouldn't know which way to bet on these kids. They have a long way to go and a road ahead of them that I wouldn't wish on anyone, but they're hanging in there for now. LaDora Sella wrote a fascinating script that's worthy of discussion, but even after a couple of viewings I'm still unsure if it's even a hopeful film or a fatalistic one. Maybe I'll figure that out on a third time through.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review, the most insightful I have seen yet for this short. Great film with underlying threads. Much like the few films that try and carry a story with very little dialog in recent history, you're left to do a lot of interpretation and justfiy the end yourself, a difficult task for even the most experienced of actors. Little Lauren-Brooks Wilson did a great job conveying what would be considered an average day in a childs life where struggle exists on different levels.