In jobs that primarily entail wrangling gaggles of unruly toddlers, the pearl of advice often imparted is to “be childlike, not childish.” Anne (Deragh Campbell, no longer Canada’s best-kept acting secret), the cyclone of arrested development whirling at the centre of Kazik Radwanski’s exacting new character study, has been having trouble with that distinction.
At the daycare where she’s supposed to be helping maintain a friendly sense of order, her immaturity makes her an ideal playmate for the kids and a frustrating coworker for her fellow adults. Her sense of innocent wonder comes in handy when gingerly handling butterflies with the little ones, but behaving like a 10-year-old stuck in the body of a woman creates friction with the sticklers in management. By the time she responds to a reminder that hot beverages aren’t allowed under safety regulations by whipping her cup at another employee, there’s no ignoring that she may not be cut out for the grown-up world.
Radwanski places her at odds with a society that can’t make sense of her awkward presence, self-involved choices, or antagonistic streak – though he puts in the effort to do so. The trembling close-ups in which he shoots Campbell’s reserved yet expressive face offer the first signal that she’s under just as much mental strain as she causes anyone else, if not more.
While the film shies away from any specific psychological language, it’s evident that some manner of neurodivergence fills daily life with difficulties for Anne. (Her mother, in the patient yet borderline exasperated tone of voice reserved for loved ones in serious need, obliquely mentions a past clinic stay.) Radwanski and cinematographer Nikolay Michaylov reproduce her pressurised headspace with their claustrophobic camerawork, in harmony with Ajla Odobasic’s disorienting editing schemes that cross-cut scenes within one another and ditch transitions easing the viewer along. The overwhelming sensation that may result, and the distress that comes with it, amounts to a vicarious experience of taxing empathy.
That’s more than she can expect from most of the people in her orbit, each of whom finds their own limit of how much Anne they can take. She has a meet-drunk with a well-meaning guy (Matt Johnson, cult-favourite creator of Operation Avalanche and Nirvana the Band the Show) at a friend’s wedding, only to show up at his flat unannounced and bring him to meet her family unannounced. In his gradual shying-away, a lamentable inverse proportionality comes into focus: the more desperately Anne needs help, the less inclined others are to go through the labor of providing it.
She finds inner peace only while tumbling through the air skydiving, suggesting that her acting out stems from a lack of stimulation in the dull responsibilities of adulthood. Whenever she gets a rise out of someone else and they begin to push back, she hides behind the shame-faced schoolchild’s excuse that it was just a joke. “Joke” may not be the mot juste, but she’s being honest that her desire was simply to enliven the fidgety tedium. The compassion she earns, as in the excruciating passage that sees her regale some rugrats with the story of her cat’s descent into madness and death, tempers our relation to the aggravation she prompts.
Campbell’s fearlessness, in both her abrasion and the fragile humanity behind her chaos, helps strike this delicate balance. To lean into everything alienating about Anne, and then to locate the deeper personhood independent of it – the difference between what she does, and who she is – requires a tremendous leap of faith. And unlike her character, she didn’t have a parachute.
Kazik Radwanski is well-regarded around Toronto, and little-known elsewhere.
A nerve-shredding gamut of stress and discomfort…
…that’s all a means to productive, worthy ends.
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