Published Jun 18, 2015Canadian filmmaker Sarah Goodman is a master of observation, as she's made clear in previous documentaries Army of One and When We Were Boys, which won her a Hot Docs Best Canadian Documentary Award and Gemini nomination, respectively. Her stark, beautiful and poignant feature-length dramatic debut, Porch Stories, drives the point home.
The film tells the story of Emma (Canadian songwriter Laura Barrett), a part-time librarian and former musician whose life is thrown into disarray when a fellow performer, past lover and previous bandmate, Gabriel (By Divine Right's José Miguel Contreras), unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) injects himself into her life one day after passing by her porch in Toronto's West End. They begin to show signs of an emotional affair, a dramatic turn that is fully completed by a classic love triangle once her partner Stefan (comedian Alex Tindal) catches wind, leading to all sorts of confusion when a prying neighbour notices their problems.
Boiled down to its base level, Porch Stories probably sounds like a fairly run-of-the-mill Canadian kitchen sink drama, the kind we've become known for and have come to expect being played on CBC at two o'clock in the morning. But for all its surface simplicity, Porch Stories has a lot to say.
The film explores ideas and feelings about indecision, infidelity, creativity (or lack thereof, once you've reached your 30s) and, perhaps most surprisingly, gentrification. It's very Toronto-centric, but anyone who's watched a hip younger crowd infiltrate a working class community will appreciate the humour in snippets of conversation from passersby found between the film's more serious scenes.
Those with an interest in the Canadian music scene will probably be familiar with the film's two leads, both of which are performing together here for the first time on film. But even with their lack of experience, there's something captivating about Barrett and Contreras' onstage charisma, even when they tackle the occasional clunker of a line or botch a bit of delivery.
The pair began performing together musically during the making of the film, and that on-screen and off-screen collaboration permeates every inch of Porch Stories, whether it's the film's soundtrack — a mixture of flamenco guitar and kalimba that sounds as effortless and melodic as a set of wind chimes — or the tender backstory behind both of its characters. There's a charm to it, which is something the film's star, Barrett, knows quite well.
"The film is not loud," she said in a recent interview with Exclaim!, noting that "it's sweet and quiet." And, like a lot of first-time artistic efforts, sometimes the most unassuming things end up being the most memorable.