In the opening image a surge of water smashes through shards of ice. That's the emblem of the three central women's growth in his drama.
Alice Beacon (Kate Trotter) first appears as a hard, frozen face in a cab, behind black glasses, under her husband's ghost's cold hand. (The workaholic lawyer pops round to give her advice — but still smokes in bed.) When she leaves Toronto to return to (frigid) North Bay Alice is in another cab, but now radiant and ebullient.
The Beacon she provides is summarized in her advice to her daughter, Suzanne (Christine Horne): "Life slips away so quickly
. Most people are too asleep to notice." And in their last scene: "Lose myself, find myself. It's all the same in the end
. If your heart breaks I hope it breaks wide open."
What lit up Alice is the Wonderland she discovers through Suzanne's lesbian friend Tru (Shauna MacDonald, who with Kate Johnston also wrote and directed his fine, sensitive film). In Tru's world a waitress wears a "Pussy Whisperer" t-shirt. The love that gradually grows between the 60-year-old widow and the 30-ish Tru (nee Gertrude, Hamlet's randy mom) does break Alice wide open. She dies of an aneurism on the train home. But she dies at last alive, in her first throes of passionate love — that was missing in her shotgun marriage — and on a new level of understanding both of herself and with her daughter.
Though Suzanne compulsively tries to "protect" her mother from that grand passion, the experience breaks through her carapace against her own emotion. Alice forces her to confront the mysterious feelings she has preferred to evade through work. The experience brings Suzanne as well as Alice out of the shadow of the father's death.
Though Tru is apparently the worldliest of the three women, Alice lights her way anew too. Tru has been compulsively untrue to her lovers, too self-absorbed wholly to commit to them — or even to remember their name — and too cowardly to confront the superficiality of her engagement. She lives on an island. Her joy with Alice and her tension with Suzanne discover a new depth of feeling and an openness that enable her to resume and correct the last relationship she'd fled. The spiked shirt she wears in her melancholy is an emblem of her earlier defence against vulnerability.
Two pictures distinguish Suzanne's and Tru's lives. Chez Suzanne an androgynous face wears a muffled mouth, an emblem of the boyish woman whose life is strictly her law career. In Tru's kitchen, where she indulges her zest for food, French music and brightness the pic is of brilliant flowers. Alice has lived Suzanne's life — sandwiched between two generations of neglectful lawyers — but Tru brings her into joy. It proves contagious.
With a crisp script, first-class direction and superb performances, this film clearly deserves wider audience.
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