As with most films about coming to terms with sexuality, Adrianna Maggs’ directorial debut Grown Up Movie Star is rooted in tragic failures of communication. Set within an inaccessible Newfoundland outport, the story begins with a one-sided conversation in a car. Ruby, the thirteen-year-old daughter of a “sham marriage” has just been informed that her mother is leaving the country to become a movie star.
In the wake of this news, Ruby embarks upon a reactionary sexual awakening that she never completely comprehends. What transpires is a series of developmental flirtations which test the limitations of her emotionally stunted surroundings. There’s no doubt about it, coming of age on a cold, wet island sure seems to create a fair share of boundary issues.
Abandoned and brooding, Ruby’s newfound dreams of becoming an actress are constantly reflected in her appearance, decisions, and demeanour. In a subtle touch by first-time director Maggs, Ruby’s wardrobe largely consists of timely cast-offs from her runaway mother’s closet. As a result, whenever Ruby adopts new affectations or attitudes, she is conveniently clad in oversized sunglasses and drooping faux furs, each outfit evoking a dress-up chest disaster rather than a teenage emo-melodrama.
Ray (Shawn Doyle) is the haunted husband who’s been left behind to raise his two adolescent daughters, Ruby (Tatiana Maslany) and Rose (Julia Kennedy). He is a former NHL player, forced to retire after a single game thanks to a misguided drug smuggling attempt. Truly, there are many aspects of Ray’s life which he wishes were hushed up, completely forgotten, or lost in a haze of drink. His one remaining social outlet is his closest friend, “Uncle Stuart” (Jonny Harris), a mysteriously wheelchair-bound photographer who can only connect to others through the lens of his camera.
Speaking of camera work, the cinematography helps to make the snowbound town of Corner Brook a bleak supporting character. The landscapes are carefully framed with a seemingly deliberate sparseness. More often than not, the scenes are void of a needless clutter of characters, which only enhance the themes of frustration and isolation.
With that in mind, it is not surprising that Ruby tries to transcend this town-full of boredom and disillusionment by test driving her sex drive. The tragic grace that ultimately grounds her journey is her naivety, which throughout it all, remains pretty much intact. In true teenage fashion, Ruby never fully grasps the risks of any given situation. And it is exactly that brand of protracted innocence that lends this film the quirky buoyancy needed to compliment its darkly failed intimacies.
Don’t be fooled, Grown Up Movie Star is not just a movie about sex. It is about sex being a symptom of intimacy. It just so happens that most people in Ruby’s town, or perhaps in all towns, are unable to find the solace they crave in the ones they love. There are moments in this film where connections are made and relationships are saved, but for the most part, characters fall apart for all the right reasons. In many ways, Grown Up Movie Star is grounded in futility. But that’s okay, since next to love, futility just might be the most unifying force on the face of the earth.