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#62 - Top 100 Canadian Films

In the lead up to the 7th Canadian Film Festival in Australia (August 2012), join us as we countdown the Top 100 Canadian Films of the past 30 years. We'll be posting one film a day leading up to Canada Day on July 1st 2012. Do you agree with our team favourites? Let us know your thoughts!

#62 – New Waterford Girl

Allan Moyle, the director behind teen classics Pump Up the Volume and Empire Records, heads to God-fearing and god-forsaken Nova Scotia coal mining country for New Waterford Girl, a film about a teenage girl in a small town who dreams of nothing more than escaping.

Moonie Pottie hates New Waterford – it’s literally the end of the railway track, a place so isolated that the locals still haven’t lost the Irish inflections of their forebears. The people are simple, working class and (very) Catholic, destined to be born, grow up, reproduce and die in the one small town. But Moonie doesn’t want to become a nurse and get knocked up – she wants to live in New York, or Paris, or Berlin, and be an artist – and her teacher Mr Sweeney encourages her, sending off scholarship applications on her behalf.

But when Moonie eventually gets a scholarship in New York, her traditionalist Irish-Canadian parents refuse to let her go, packing her off to the doctor to have her mental health checked. Moonie’s about to give up hope when she meets a kindred spirit, Lou from the Bronx, the daughter of a champion boxer, who packs a mean punch herself and brings a bit of borough attitude to the tiny mining town.

Inspired by Lou’s take-charge personality, Moonie hatches a devious plan that will help her to escape from New Waterford for good – but along the path to the plan’s fruition, she may just discover that the town she hates so much has its own charms, after all.

The plot’s passage towards Moonie’s escape to New York is by no means a straight path, though. The original screenplay, the first and only (to be produced) by writer Tricia Fish, rolls along like a collection of short stories set around the same characters; there are distinct similarities to books like Tom Perrotta’s Bad Haircut, another excellent coming-of-age portrait of a gawky kid in a small town. There are too many odd scenes for them not to be drawn from real life: a combined wedding/funeral; a party punch-up; a man-on-girl boxing match; a failed mambo class; and then there’s Cecil Sweeney, Moonie’s teacher, who’s strangely non-creepy for a grown man in love with a 15 year-old.

Disjointed it may be, but one of New Waterford Girl’s greatest assets is that avoids sentimentality – and it’s incredibly dry and very funny. Lead actor Liane Balaban is excellent as mopey Moonie, but for me the real stand-out performance is by Moonie’s father Frances (Nicholas Campbell), the emotionally repressed miner with a twinkle in his eye.

More than anything, New Waterford Girl plays as a paean to a time and place from writer Fish’s childhood, tackling themes of family, aspiration and teenage female sexuality along the way. Also, there’s plenty of classic 90s Canadian rock and awesome flannel shirts, so it’s worth your hour and forty minutes for that alone.

- Nick Jarvis

“Sweet, if not profound, with several laugh-out-loud moments, and a wonderful portrait of place.” Brian Webster – Apollo Guide

To see the other films in the countdown so far, click here.

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