TIFF Review: 'Scarborough' Shines a Light on One of Toronto's Vibrant Neighbourhoods Directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson
Starring Liam Diaz, Essence Fox, Anna Claire Beitel, Felix Jedi Ingram Isaac, Ellie Posadas, Cherish Violet Blood, Conor Casey, Aliya Kanani
Published Sep 21, 2021Catherine Hernandez's novel Scarborough is a slice-of-life story about one of the most culturally and economically diverse parts of Toronto. It gives voice to a wide array of voices across the neighbourhood, showcasing their daily struggles and emphasizing the deep ties and love within the community.
In Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson's film adaptation of the novel, Scarborough focuses on the stories of three children from the novel: Bing (Liam Diaz), Sylvie (Essence Fox) and Laura (Anna Claire Beitel). The children and their families each have their own sets of struggles, all leading them to the neighbourhood morning school program run by the kind-hearted Ms. Hina (Aliya Kanani). At the program, Bing and Sylvie forge a strong friendship as Ms. Hina attempts to get Laura to come out of her shell.
All three young actors are excellent in their roles. Diaz plays Bing with a deep tenderness and care that fills you with so much compassion for him, you just want to reach through the screen and hug him. As headstrong Sylvie, Fox is commanding and confident, perfectly blended with the innocence of childhood. And in the most heartbreaking story of the three, Beitel's Laura has an innate sadness and desire for joy that is agonizing to watch.
While the film shows the titular neighbourhood in all its gritty beauty, Scarborough doesn't fully capture the richness and depth of the narrative set out in the novel. There are moments in the film that feel like a passing occurrence where we register the scene's intended emotion, but may not deeply feel it. The emotional climax of the film, though incredibly tragic, feels oddly superficial given its magnitude. Although showing the event shot-for-shot would have been excessive, going a step further than Scarborough did could have moved the audience's needle from sad to devastated.
Despite this, there's a lot to recommend Scarborough. The film shines a light on one of Toronto's most overlooked yet important neighbourhoods. A place that so many immigrant families have called home deserves to be shown for the love and diversity it has to offer, rather than the often sensationalized headlines in the news. Scarborough will tug at the heartstrings but may leave a void of true poignancy, especially for fans of the book.
The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (levelFILM)