I wanted to like Weirdos much more than I did.
It’s got a lot going for it: a Daniel MacIvor script directed by Bruce McDonald and shot in beautiful black and white, a groovy soundtrack of 1970s hits, performances by veterans of the Canadian screen and two able young leads (Julia Sarah Stone is the stand-out), and Cape Breton Island as its setting (along with Antigonish, which wasn’t made clear in the promotional blurb).
But here’s the thing: It’s no New Waterford Girl.
Drawing comparisons between these two films is unavoidable. As I pointed out in my festival preview, when I read the program blurb about Weirdos, it sounded to me a lot like New Waterford Girl, which I consider to be the quintessential Cape Breton coming of age film.
Weirdos centres around Kit (Dylan Authors), a teenager who runs away from home along with his girlfriend, Alice (Stone). He loves Andy Warhol and wants to go to New York. In New Waterford Girl, Moonie Pottie (Liane Balaban), a precocious teenager from New Waterford, hatches a plan to flee Cape Breton for New York. Both are set in the 1970s and have either overt or covert queer themes.
There has been a welcome move away from focusing on coming out as the only story worth telling about queer people, but that story needs to be replaced by another interesting story. This is where Weirdos falls flat for me.
Kit is closeted and afraid to come out, particularly to his father (Allan Hawko) and girlfriend, but his anxiety isn’t clearly justified based on what we see of Dave and Alice. They both seem too cool to be homophobes – even if his dad did once use a homophobic slur – which removes the dramatic tension, leaving only Kit to experience relief and leaving me a bit bored.
By contrast, it is immediately and abundantly clear in New Waterford Girl that Moonie does not fit in with her family and that although they love her, they do not understand her. Moonie’s feelings of social exclusion are justified. The dramatic tension remains in tact as the Potties’ familial incompatibility leads to frustration, levity, and eventual compromise.
New Waterford Girl is bolstered by the fact that it was shot in and around New Waterford and Sydney (as evidenced by a bunch of people I went to school with showing up as extras). It’s difficult to convey how much the movie feels like Cape Breton even to someone like me who wasn’t alive there in the 1970s.
The same cannot be said of Weirdos. This will only be an issue for local viewers, but I simply couldn’t suspend my disbelief when I saw Dartmouth and Eastern Passage standing in for Sydney and Dominion Beach. Stand-in locations aside, despite all the Nova Scotia scenery, the film didn’t manage to feel familiar to me.
All that said, I do think Weirdos is worth seeing for the reasons mentioned above, but do yourself a favour and also watch New Waterford Girl if you haven’t already done so.