Over the course of one week in 1988, the search for a missing teammate, parental expectations, a burgeoning sexual awakening and the rock concert of the century all threaten to jolt a 16-year-old into adulthood.
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It is May 1988 in Toronto. The school year is coming to a close. The Victoria Day long weekend heralds the beginning of summer. In Boston, Wayne Gretzky's dynastic Edmonton Oilers are playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. Best of all, Bob Dylan is coming to town. Ben Spektor, 16, attends the concert with his two closest friends, Sammy and Noah. Though the year is 1988, they exist as if in a time warp, idolizing the music and culture of the 1960s. Outside the concert, Ben sees what looks like a routine exchange: two teenagers buying drugs. In a way he could never have predicted, the consequences of this drug deal will alter the course of his summer and, quite possibly, the rest of his life. This one event, barely significant at the time, initiates Ben into love, as well as death, and forces him to confront his conscience, his friends, and his family. Over the span of one week, seemingly disparate forces converge on him - the search for a missing boy, his romance with the boy's sister, the... Written by
Films geared to teenagers that authentically mirror their experience are very rare indeed but Victoria Day is definitely one of the few. Shot in North York, Ontario and set during Victoria Day weekend in 1988, Canadian author David Bezmozgis' first feature is the sensitive story of a very private young man learning to cope with problems of the adult world that have been thrust upon him much too soon. The film opens at the hockey rink where Ben Spektor (Mark Rendell), a 16-year-old hockey player, is dodging verbal bullets from teammate Jordan Chapman, a notorious bully. It is the time of the Stanley Cup finals between the Edmonton Oilers (read Wayne Gretzky) and the Boston Bruins, and hockey is the main topic of conversation.
With Bob Dylan song "Dark Eyes" playing in the background, the scene shifts to Exhibition Stadium where Ben and his friends are attending a Bob Dylan concert. Ben is stopped by Jordan outside of the concert who demands that he give him five dollars to buy drugs and Ben reluctantly complies. When Jordan does not show up at school or hockey practice the next day, however, Ben fears the worst. As the days pass and family, friends, and police search for Jordan, Ben's budding relationship with the missing youth's sister Cayla (Holly Deveaux) is strained by his feelings of guilt over Jordan's disappearance.
Although the ongoing search for Jordan hangs heavily, Bezmozgis does not allow its mood to dominate, showing lighter incidents from Ben's experience that define the feeling of time and place, including friends Sammy (John Mavro) and Noah (Scott Beaudin) shooting fireworks at each other at a party, an awkward relationships with the very giving Melanie (Melanie Leishman), Ben's very tentative outreach to Cayla, and his Russian parents (Nataliya Alyexeyenko and Sergiy Kotelenets) gruff over reaction when his broken arm suffered after clowning around prevents him from participating in the hockey playoffs.
Bezmozgis says that the film was inspired by the director's own experience as the son of Russian immigrant parents and also by his recollection of the death of 14-year-old Benji Hayward who drowned in Lake Ontario after ingesting LSD at a Pink Floyd concert in 1988. While Victoria Day is a fictional story, Bezmozgis says that he was happy to find out that Hayward's parents attended a screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and liked the film. Victoria Day may lack the professional polish and dramatic arc of some higher budget films, yet it offers an emotionally affecting slice of life that captures that painful time of transition in a young man's life when, in Bob Dylan's words, "time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies, a million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes."
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