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This is the story of an extremely obese, rather immature, yet very bright and talented young man, and of his world and the people in it... mostly homeless young adults... who refer to their lives and where they live as their individual "planets," and everyone else as "refugees." But there are problems in his world, where a talent for the piano has been reduced to playing Chopin on a piano that has had the strings cut by his mother out of frustration at his incessant practicing... the same mother who now requires him to be there to administer her insulin shots. Still, because he is a 'good boy', he plays on the soundless piano, and takes weekly lessons from a piano teacher so eccentric that she will only allow him to strum out the notes on her dining room table... until, like real planets when other bodies get too close, he finds himself pulled and moved in a different direction. Written by
BOB STEBBINS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A dirty, gritty street-drama is given the clean, glossy treatment by CBC
Edit: I learned that the DVD I watched is the edited-for-TV-version, not the original film which is apparently only available on dusty old VHS tapes.
"The Planet of Junior Brown" (a great title which was inexplicably changed to the insipid "Junior's Groove" for DVD release in the USA) is an adaptation of an acclaimed novel which I haven't read. But watching this movie I could tell that there were many subtle & complex themes that only a novel could fully explore.
That's not the problem, since we all know that 90 minute films cannot possibly cover the entire scope of a novel. The problem is that this story, which should really be presented as a dark psychological twister like maybe "The Fisher King" was instead given a very glossy made-for-TV look. As a result, the presentation sometimes feels contradictory to the heavy subject matter. Not a fatal flaw, but one that keeps me from rating this challenging story higher.
The story is about a young boy, Junior, an artistic & musical prodigy, growing up in a broken home under the thumb of his neurotic mother, lending a subtle but unsettling Oedipal spin. Tormented at school for his appearance, he spends his days cutting class with his best friend Buddy who is one of several orphaned youths living under the rule of a frightening gang boss. Buddy has his own demons, but he spends his time looking out for the very vulnerable Junior who wouldn't last 10 minutes on his own. It's almost like an urban "Of Mice and Men" setup with this endearing big-brother relationship they share. But Buddy can't necessarily protect Junior from everything. The story revolves around Junior's escape from harsh reality into his mental fantasy world, a place full of stars, colorful planets, and of course music that only he can hear. There is also a terrifying, shadowy character with Freddy Krueger hands who seems to be always lurking not far away.
There's a lot going on, and I haven't even scratched the surface. You can see how I compare it to the excellent "The Fisher King", a surreal story where Robin Williams plays a homeless man who has delusions of being an urban Robin Hood.
Unfortunately, the CBC made-for-TV approach is far too clean for a story like this. For example, all the profanity is edited out, even though we're led to believe some of these characters are vicious street hoods and murderers. There are strong implications of things like rape and child molestation, but as if it's censored, we can't be sure if it happened. And everyone looks too clean. At least they could've ruffled Sarah Polley's hair and removed her makeup if we're supposed to believe she's a street beggar (and check out those shoes she's wearing, très chic!)
Despite all that nonsense, there are some excellent scenes, very artistic. And if you're looking for a dark urban story without all upsetting violence and language of a Tarantino flick, this fits the bill. I loved the magical scenes where Junior and Buddy learn astronomy while watching a glorious planetarium contraption scrapped together from stolen bits & pieces--I want that thing for my bedroom! These scenes are poetic and visually striking. Some of the indoor sets (in an abandoned church, etc) have a sort of majestic desolation that you wish you could hang on your wall as a painting. And although the acting can be a little melodramatic at times (again, made-for-TV fare), there were a handful of moments when I was really blown away by an actor's delivery.
I can't blame the director Clement Virgo for the film's watered-down presentation. Although I've never seen any of his other films, I can tell just by some of their titles that he's not a man who shies away from in-your-face controversy (his first 3 works are called "A Small Dick Fleshy Ass Thang", "The Split Second a Pullout Technique" and "Save My Lost Nigga Soul"). All of this makes me conclude that "The Planet of Junior Brown" was an unfortunate victim of a compromise between rudely honest art vs. publicly-digestible commercialism. If this had been an indie flick, rather than the highly advertised CBC spectacle that they were pushing, it could've been something truly spectacular. I suspect that the DVD release I got may have been further edited for home viewing. One day I would love to see a director's cut where he pulls no punches and doesn't shy away from the heavy themes we're teased with.
In all, this movie is a worthwhile watch. I'm just frustrated because I can imagine how great "The Planet of Junior Brown" would've been in a parallel universe.
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