Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Canada, 1995. Ark Films, Blue Moon Films, British Columbia Film Commission, Telefilm Canada. Screenplay by Philip Spink. Cinematography by John Spooner. Produced by Jane Charles, Sarah Duncan. Music by Daryl Bennett, Jim Guttridge. Production Design by Philip Spink. Costume Design by Crystine Booth. Film Editing by Frank Irvine. Toronto International Film Festival 1995.
A pre-adolescent boy named Peter is growing up in the suburbs and has been set-up to fail by his circumstances: his mom likes to keep his red mop of hair long, his clothing mainly consists of his sister’s hand-me-downs and the bullies in the neighbourhood feel compelled to take notice of both. He spends his free time dreaming up his pet project, creating a rocket that will take him to the moon, his peaceful escape from the melee of lives around him. His economically strained parents work alternate day and night shifts to keep their house together, not easy considering the trouble that Peter gets himself into at school on a regular basis. The only spot of joy comes from his older sister Emily, the town beauty who is preparing for college, determined not to let her hearing impairment stop her from whatever she wants to accomplish. Another ally comes into Peter’s life thanks to his mother’s dedicated socialist values, she is always inviting a foster child to live in their already crowded home, and that brings a young indigenous boy named Sam to their family and a friendship is born. Sam tells him that he hopes to eventually go live with his grandmother on her farm, otherwise secretive about what led to him being orphaned, happy to join the work on Peter’s rocket project until it’s time for him to leave. The dreamlike cinematography emphasizes bright colours to suggest nostalgia, and there’s a generosity with which director Philip Spink treats all his characters of any age or demeanor that is borne out by the charming performances; a film like this is going to live or die on the quality of the children’s performances in particular, and both Cody Serpa and Simon Baker are effortless both in portraying their adventures as well as their easy chemistry. There’s something off kilter about the rest of it, though, there are moments where Spink feels like he wants to make a cracked suburban satire for adults that puts rough edges on something whose kid-friendly portions are overly familiar and bland. It’s a weird combination of middlebrow family fare and provocative art school project and, as it never quite lands on firm ground, is cute but never warm or cherishable.