A merciful God invented the Black Death for reviewers like Jonathan Adams
Before I had the chance to see Mary Walsh’s Young Triffie, I read the review by The Globe and Mail’s Film Critic, Liam Lacey, who hated the movie and could find nothing good to say about any of the performances with the exception of Rémy Girard’s. This instantly reminded me of when the Hatching, Matching & Dispatching pilot first aired on CBC and I heard a TV critic for The Globe and Mail (what the hell is their problem, anyway?) panning that show in a radio interview. The only actor who impressed her in the least was Mark McKinney.
Do you see a pattern emerging here? The only thing mainlanders seem to like about local productions is that they occasionally have mainlanders in them.
I mean, the nerve of these people. This so galled me I spent the rest of the week buying The Globe just so I could make a public display of tearing it up.
I had worked up my indignation to such a righteous pitch that when I finally did get to see Young Triffie for myself this week, I was determined to have the time of my life just as a matter of principle. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh, yes! In-deed!!!” I projected from the back of the theatre, whereupon it came out the film hadn’t actually started yet. Dear me, says I. That was a damned entertaining car commercial.
Midway through the film, I had begun to recover from this embarrassment when something even more humiliating happened: I found myself agreeing with The Globe and Mail’s Film Critic, Liam Lacey.
Nevertheless, Lacey’s review is uncharitable in many respects. He’s blind to the inspired performance of Fred Ewaniuk in the lead role of Ranger Hepditch, who has an almost Chaplinesque quality, especially in the scene where he eats an entire banana with the peel on and pretends to enjoy it. But while Ewaniuk demonstrates too that he has possibly the best girlish scream ever recorded on film, Walsh has probably tried to milk a few too many laughs out of it.
Andy Jones, in the somewhat limited, caricature role of Pastor Pottle, a true “arse licker of Satan,” achieves an expression of langourous evil in his eyes that makes you forget entirely you’re watching Andy Jones. It almost makes you wish he would do more slasher films.
Walsh herself shows off her effortless comic timing as the nosey Postmistress, Millie Bishop, who can look in the face of the most unbalanced lunatics in the film and still say with perfect sincerity, “God love the little sweetheart.”
As a director, however, Walsh’s timing is really off. Young Triffie seems at once too fast and too bogged down. Watching the film, you almost feel like one of those politicians who have fallen victim to Marg Delahunty: details of varying significance and so many jokes pile up at such a furious pace, it’s almost impossible to get a thought in edgewise.
At the same time, there is a series of unnecessary echoes and flashbacks that generally serve to repeat things you haven’t forgotten. I feel like a traitor to my sex (male) complaining of the repeated image of the lovely, dare I say Pre-Raphaelite, Brenda Piercy (Suezn Carpenter) stripped down to barely anything in the Doctor’s examination room, but since this isn’t supposed to be that kind of a film, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re being pandered to.
Then again, Walsh’s humour is on the whole transgressive, and if you don’t hate prudery and the Church with quite the same intensity as she does, a whole feature full of her caricatures is bound to get tiresome after a while.
None of this is altogether pleasant to admit. The film community in St. John’s is so small, and a production like Young Triffie gives so much work to so many talented and deserving people, to be other than delighted with the result probably seems like grounds for court-martial.
And yet, if we’re to complain about critics from upalong who admire only those parts of our films of which mainlanders are a part, it’s equally insular to reserve judgement entirely in the case of any production simply because it was made by Newfoundlanders.