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It’s a wonderful film

Characters at the heart of Wilby Wonderful

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What: Wilby Wonderful – Whistler Film Festival Society’s Reel Alternatives cinema series

Where: MY Millennium Place

When: Friday, July 8, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $5

Wilby Wonderful is a film that exemplifies Reel Alternatives.

The year-round cinema series staged by the Whistler Film Festival Society aims to bring in films Whistler wouldn’t normally get the chance to see. And an unpresuming, character-driven Canadian film like Wilby wouldn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell amidst the bombastic blockbuster fare that comes and goes from the commercial screening houses in this town.

Wilby Wonderful doesn’t have any alien invaders, Bat-people or mutant squads. It’s a rather quiet film about one day in the life of the East Coast Canadian town of Wilby, a place that is believably picturesque by not being too perfect.

Under the surface, things are far from perfect in Wilby. The town is abuzz with talk of a scandal at Wilby Watch, an oceanfront lookout spot, where certain upstanding citizens have been caught in flagrante delicto . Also implied, however, is that the degree of uproar is unwarranted, possibly the result of a mysterious agenda, or mere sensationalism in the name of selling more newspapers.

In and around the enveloping drama is an eclectic cross-section of Wilby-ites, portrayed by a veritable who’s who of Canadian cinematic talent.

There’s morose, suicidal divorcee/video storeowner Dan Jarvis, played by James Allodi. Rebecca Jenkins is former town slut, and single mother Sandra Anderson, who has recently returned to Wilby to reopen a local diner with her teenaged daughter Emily (Ellen Page) in tow. Aside from Mom’s enduring rep, Emily’s got her own problems, namely a horny boyfriend with one thing on his mind in spite of her reservations.

Paul Gross and his Aspen Extreme baby blues are cop Buddy French, a salt of the earth guy who is juggling the Wilby Watch investigation and his troubled marriage to high-strung, social-climbing town realtor Carol French, played by Sandra Oh, fresh off her success as the feisty Steph in the American wine-country tribute film Sideways .

Maury Chaykin is also on the roster, a perfect pick to play the good-ol-boy Mayor Brent Fisher. And Callum Keith Rennie weaves in and out of everyone’s lives as Duck MacDonald, an intuitive handyman whose ability to read people contradicts his apparent dyslexia, a condition which leads to a botched job painting banners for Carol French’s "Wonderful Wilby" festival, the source of the film’s title.

Director Daniel MacIvor, himself a seasoned theatrical and cinematic actor, allows the more-than-capable cast to take ownership of the various roles. It pays off with strong performances across the board, particularly from Page, who does teenage sexual angst with heartbreaking accuracy.

The principle characters are so good, in fact, that the film’s one weakness – the one-dimensional bit players – is all the more glaring. The dumb cop is far too dumb, the bitchy town snoop is far too tactless, and the mayor’s wife’s allergies and phobias are over the top to the point of unlikely.

But lucky for Wilby Wonderful, they are just that, bit players, mere mosquitoes that are easily waved away from the deserving main cast, which manages altogether to find an effective balance of the film’s dark comedy and dramatic elements.

These people make you care about Wilby and fear for its soul, which is at risk from a potent stew of greedy developers, fear-mongers, homophobes and closed-minds.

While Whistler is worlds apart from fictional Wilby, parts of the film will certainly hit home, particularly for those caught up in the current debate over the character of the village and whether to allow certain large-scale chain stores to take up shop.

Wilby is definitely worth visiting; the citizens of Wilby are definitely worth watching. This is quality Canadian cinema, a description that dooms Wilby Wonderful to the festival circuit or to specialty screenings such as this Friday’s event.

Be warned that to see it will be to wonder what other wonderful, unpretentious cinematic gems Whistler might be missing.

Wilby Wonderful screens Friday, July 8 at 8 p.m. in the Millennium Place theatre and not at Lost Lake Park as originally planned, due to predictions of poor weather. Tickets are $5 at the venue.

Up next for Reel Alternatives is Shorts In The Park – an outdoor screening of short films on Friday, July 22 in conjunction with the Whistler Music and Arts Festival. Shorts will include the NFB’s 2005 Academy Award-winning animated film Ryan and entries from the newly-formed Whistler Independent Filmmakers Society. For more information on Whistler Film Festival Society summer screening events go to www.whistlerfilmfestival.com .

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