Canadian-born choreographer Alison Murray draws on her own experiences as a 15-year-old runaway living in squats and on the streets, in her feature-filmmaking debut, which is a clear-eyed look at the pleasures and price of abandoning conventional mores for experimental lifestyles. Restless middle-class teenager Sherry (Ellen Page), whose single mother, Laurie...read more
Canadian-born choreographer Alison Murray draws on her own experiences as a 15-year-old runaway living in squats and on the streets, in her feature-filmmaking debut, which is a clear-eyed look at the pleasures and price of abandoning conventional mores for experimental lifestyles. Restless middle-class teenager Sherry (Ellen Page), whose single mother, Laurie (Natasha Wightman), loves her deeply but became a mother before learning the ropes of parenting, is adrift in a sea of aimless rebellion when a handsome vagabond Tiger (August Diehl) throws her a life ring, inviting her to meet the members of SPARK Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge a loose-knit, nomadic anarchist group. Initially skeptical, Sherry is won over by the idea of SPARK, whose social agenda includes setting up makeshift soup kitchens, helping homeless teens get off drugs if they want to or teaching them to deal with ODs if they don't, supporting each other emotionally and, best of all, having spontaneous fun. The reality, though relinquishing all personal property, dumpster-diving for food and begging on the streets is something of a shock to her fundamentally sheltered system. Her fellow travelers include aspiring rock singer Nancy (Beatrice Brown), whose flight from boredom led her to drug addiction and prostitution; scrawny, deeply damaged Mad Ax (Maxwell McCabe Lokos); his best friend, adolescent Manson (Elliot McCabe), medically trained Dog (Diana Greenwood); reformed junkie Pedro (Jefferson Guzman), who rechristens his sober self "Blade"; and American Harry (Eric Thal), the mercurial leader whose demeanor can shift from warmly paternal to tyrannical in the blink of an eye. This Sherry learns when she breaks one of the group's many unstated rules by calling her mom to say she's OK. As a result of that call, Laurie tracks Sherry to a rave and attempts a reconciliation; when her efforts fail, Laurie makes her way to SPARK's commune, the whimsically named "Jabon Paradiso." In an ironic reversal, Laurie surrenders to the group's scruffy utopian ideals just as Sherry begins to realize that SPARK is taking a disturbing turn toward the cultish. Murray gives the film a convincingly raw, punky vibe and conveys Sherry's initial attraction to the SPARK credo and her growing disillusionment, while Page's intense performance lends her broadly written character considerable nuance. The film's overall narrative looseness, though trying, suits the story, but Murray's attempts to integrate free-form, natural-movement-based dance moves into the action feel false and showy.