Toronto-based filmmaker Amnon Buchbinder tackles the sensitive subject of adolescent sexuality in this winning coming-of-age character study set in a wintry small town in Nova Scotia.
Thirteen-year-old Emerson Thorsen (Aaron Webber) is the unusually self-possessed only child of Kaya (Rebecca Jenkins) and Rog Emerson (Robert Joy), the kind of parents who believe that a family who saunas together in the nude is a family that stays together. Homeschooled his entire life and raised in a house constructed of straw bales his mother designed and his father built (Rog is an inventor dedicated to creating greener, environmentally responsible habitats for humans) deep in the woods on the far outskirts of a small Nova Scotia town, Emerson lives in a cocoon of his parents' own making, which his father thinks is just fine. Kaya, however, worries that Emerson will never be accepted to a university without a more traditional education, and even though Rog accuses her of betraying their "ideals," she enrolls Emerson in the local middle school. Emerson wants no part of it he's counting the success of his first novel, a long fantasy quest epic entitled "The Fire of Evermore," which he's handwritten on hand-illuminated pages, to establish his fame and fortune. So in order to ease him into the scary world of public school, Kaya invites Emerson's future English teacher, Don Grant (Daniel MacIvor), to dinner. Don is impressed by Emerson's obvious intelligence and takes his precocious attitude in stride, and when Emerson's beaten up on his first day of school for mouthing off to the class bully, Don assures him that such "rites of passage" are a sad fact of life. Don even finds a kind of liberation in his new student: When Emerson points out that the seventh-grade reading assignment a young-adult novel entitled "Snowboard Snowjob" is dumb and boring and will never engage the class, Don is inspired to toss the book and takes Emerson's suggestion that they read someone who could actually write: Shakespeare. The connection Emerson begins to feel with his teacher intensifies to the point of a full-blown crush after he realizes that all is not well at home. Rog's latest project of turning human excrement into an energy source has proven too "visionary" even for his former partners and he now works in total isolation. Meanwhile, Kaya, bored with her marriage, has begun an affair with a local man (Callum Keith Rennie).
As Emerson's feelings for Don turn increasingly sexual, Buchbinder's task becomes a delicate one, and he manages to convey an adolescent's desire for a man old enough to be his father with uncommon sensitivity. Much of this is due to newcomer Webber's impressive performance. But interestingly, the real heart of the film is in the finely drawn adult characters: the father who's grown isolated in his idealism; the mother who can no longer reconcile his ideals with the reality of her life; and the teacher who decided long ago that he was meant to be alone but who, thanks to his new student, has begun to have second thoughts.
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