Published Sep 01, 2001
"Picture Claire" marks director Bruce McDonald's graduation to hip and sophisticated filmmaker. He forgoes the rock and roll attitude that made his previous films fun and readies himself for a grittier world market.
Claire (Juliette Lewis) is a Montrealer burned out of her apartment and heads to Toronto to reunite with lover Billy Stewart. Understanding little English and speaking even less, she finds herself in the wrong places at the wrong time all the time. Her more sophisticated double, Lily (Gina Gershon) unwittingly sets up the apparent babe in woods for a dangerous case of mistaken identity. Meanwhile, Claire continues her search for Billy and the cops search for her.
There are a number of interesting things going on in this film which may or may not be intended. The neat split/multi screen effects are properly used to instill a sense of frenetic unease to start. Like Claire, you have no idea where to look or where to go, so you just move along with the film. It's a novel tool judicially used. Further along, McDonald touches upon an obvious "Wizard of Oz" motif, which is fortunately short-lived but underscores Claire's character, as does the dreamy lunar imagery. Although we learn she is capable and savvy, she is still slightly unprepared and only longs to return home, wherever that may be.
This brings up the overall theme of dislocation. In the introduction, Claire explains how she doesn't feel like she's from this planet but rather from the moon. This is a clever analogy for the Francophone experience in Anglophone Toronto. Exemplified by the inability, unwillingness, and condescension she finds in the city, Claire relies on her own resilience to find answers. Whether purposeful or not, there is yet another illustration of the Two Solitudes when Billy's new girlfriend enters the picture. Cynthia is terribly British and upscale; a complete contrast to the Quebecois and low-rent Claire. Toronto "the good" has always been seen as WASP conservative from its politics to its hockey team. Montreal, on the other hand, has a reputation as Catholic with a joie de vivre, with colourful politics and hockey despite its beleaguered economy.
While the directing is bang on, the acting is spotty. Lewis, who I usually can't stand, is perfect for this role. Her accent is convincing and her slightly off kilter performance fits the character. Gershon is good as the paranoid Lily and pulls it off well. Callum Keith Rennie as the merciless thug is believable and the type casting of Mickey Rourke, as the slimy Eddie is fitting and thankfully short-lived. The rest of the players are background for these characters which is too bad as the performances of the two detectives could have been less cardboard.
With this film, McDonald is ready to face the U.S. and global markets bringing a cosmopolitan image of Toronto with him. As any nighthawk will attest, the city is gritty and dynamic when the tourists are safely tucked in their beds. The notion of "Toronto the Good" is shown for the façade that it is and this is a good thing as it helps us come of age.