Picture Day Kate Melville

Picture Day Kate Melville
Claire (Tatiana Maslany) is repeating her senior year of high school. Having failed Calculus and remedial Phys-Ed, mostly due to attendance issues, she expresses cool indifference to her Vice Principal (Catherine Fitch), citing the indignity and absurdity of doing "burpees" in a group and the lack of practical worldly applications for Calculus as her rationale.

As portrayed by the always-mesmerizing Maslany, she's effortlessly likable; Claire is the sort of bemused smartass that says and does exactly what's on her mind without concern for social repercussions or imposed external morality. She's also unapologetically promiscuous, banging a generic, homely Toronto musician (Steven McCarthy, of the Elastocitizens) nearly twice her age and donning the nickname "twist off," which alludes to similar proclivities.

And while the rebellious outsider as the protagonist of an indie coming-of-age character piece isn't exactly an original prospect, especially within the limited lexicon of English-language Canadian cinema, it's Maslany's hilarious and quietly devastating take on the caricature that gives Melville's loose, but assured directorial debut its vitality.

Careening wildly between an adult and teen life, demonstrating the same groupie affinity as her lonely, alcoholic mother, when not treating her younger friend, Henry (Spencer Van Wyck) — someone she used to babysit — like a social science experiment, she tries to determine how to enter a world of responsibility where a flippant attitude does little to commodify the self.

Rather than dote on status quo morality or force her protagonist into a contrived avenue of catharsis, Melville lets her characters guide the narrative. Claire isn't championed, nor is she vilified, instead vacillating between confidence and defeat, learning mainly that minor compromise is easier when you have someone along for the ride that gets the joke.

This road to trust and establishing relationships isn't done conventionally either. Claire is as complicated as anyone that masks their pain with confidence, making bad decisions and learning from them, but never completely healing or embarking upon a journey free from complications.

As such, Picture Day plays realistically and candidly, having genuinely hilarious moments — jokes about uneven testicles and a touring funk band in Espanola, Ontario stand out — blend perfectly with revelatory scenes of inner-tragedy. It's the sort of work that showcases the intense talents of its star, as well as the great storytelling abilities of its director.

It's just a shame that we don't get more time to spend in this world with these characters. (TMN)