'Wet Bum': SBIFF Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Vividly recalls teenage growing pains

A teen girl attempts to puzzle her way through the intricacies of the adult world in Lindsay Mackay’s debut feature

The awkwardness of adolescence is sympathetically observed in Wet Bum, a fairly typical coming-of-ager set in a northern Canadian small town. Continuing festival play may help this low-budget feature secure eventual broadcast or online exposure if theatrical opportunities don't materialize.

Drawing on personal experience, Mackay’s screenplay vividly recalls the specific humiliations and motivating aspirations of adolescence, when increasing independence repeatedly runs up against the impediments of parental and social authority. Even at the age of 14, Samantha’s (Julia Sarah Stone) life seems stuck: She remains the frequent target of mean-girl classmates at school and swim practice, her single mom (Leah Pinsent) won’t stop interfering in her business and the possibility of any boys taking even a passing interest in her seems uncertain at best. A new job cleaning apartments for elderly residents at the retirement home her mother manages seems like a further humiliation, particularly since some of the tenants behave downright disagreeably. Others are too out of it to provide much interaction at all, making Sam feel like an outsider all over again. 

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Swim practice is another ordeal entirely, since the more developed girls constantly harass her about her slight build and extreme shyness, prompting Sam to frequently pull her clothes on over her ill-fitting, wet bathing suit before quickly departing the locker room, even in the still chilly spring weather. The only upside to this frequent harrassment is the increasing attention she’s attracting from handsome swim coach Lukas (Craig Arnold), a high school classmate of her older brother Nate (Jamie Johnston). 

At work, however, cranky retiree Ed (Kenneth Welsh), distraught over the recent death of his beloved wife, often hassles her while she’s cleaning his apartment, turning her after-school job into yet another source of unavoidable stress. These converging issues force Sam to consider what really needs to change in her life so that she can move ahead, at the same time she’s wondering how the aging residents she often encounters manage to deal with the problems they also seem to face. 

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Stone’s fresh-faced demeanor effortlessly reveals Sam’s constantly shifting emotions and frequent uncertainty with social situations that many teens navigate far more confidently. Facing the opposite challenge of concealing Lukas’ ulterior motives for befriending Sam until a climactic third-act scene, Arnold provides little more than the fulcrum for Sam to leverage some badly needed self-assertion. As the irascible senior, Welsh would have been better off dialing back some of Ed’s constant vitriol with a bit more emotional shading.

Although Sam’s emotional arc rings true, taken together the incidents that Mackay has plotted out aren’t sufficiently significant to initiate the sort of epiphany that would help resolve her overlapping concerns, however. Technical credits are adequate for the film’s indie scale, with Guy Godfree’s underwater photography, shot during Sam’s swim lessons, particularly notable for both clarity and continuity.

Production companies: Clique Pictures, Devonshire Productions, Buck Productions

Cast: Julia Sarah Stone, Craig Arnold, Diana Leblanc, Jamie Johnston, Jenna Nye, Natalie Ganzhorn, Leah Pinsent, Kenneth Welsh

Director-writer: Lindsay Mackay

Producers: Sean Buckley, Paula Devonshire, Lauren Grant

Executive producer: Daniel Bekerman, Tim Nye

Director of photography: Guy Godfree

Production designers: Rosanna Lagace, Lisa Soper

Costume designer: Ruth Secord

Editor: Jorge Weisz

Music: Ohad Benchetrit,  Brendan Canning           

 

No rating, 95 minutes 

 

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