'Guidance': Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
An amusing riff on an increasingly familiar theme

A failed child actor starts corrupting young minds

TORONTO – An enjoyable entry into the swelling ranks of corrupt-the-youth comedies, Pat Mills's Guidance puts an alcoholic deadbeat in the counselor's office of a troubled high school and finds that at least a few of his students are better off for the dubious advice he gives. In the lead role, Mills brings a mix of qualities that are sometimes lacking when better known actors decide to play bad; while the film can't hope for the exposure given to something like Bad Teacher, the modest pic will entertain on the fest circuit and home vid.

Mills, who years ago did a brief stint on "You Can't Do That on Television," plays washed-up child actor David Gold, a cheerfully oblivious alcoholic who's on the outs with his family and burning other bridges as quickly as possible. On the verge of eviction, he lies his way into a guidance-counselor gig at Grusin High; there, while trying to maintain his composure around faculty, he makes no attempt with the kids. Fifths of vodka come out routinely in his office, helping shy girls self-medicate and winning the grudging acceptance of campus toughs.

"I exist in the space between caring too much and not giving a f---," Gold says at one point, getting at the pleasure of seeing these interactions with kids who are nonplussed, then delighted by the strangely honest way he deals with them. One girl in particular earns his loyalty: Jabrielle (Zahra Bentham), whose self-esteem has been decimated by her mother and who, when things inevitably go south for Gold at the school, becomes his fugitive partner. Here, finally, Mills lets an ounce of self-awareness crawl into the character's delusions of competence (throughout, we've been hearing the Stuart Smalley-like affirmations he recorded as his last "acting" gig); while their time together is thinly drawn, it hits the right notes lightly and allows the movie a satisfying way out of its realism-be-damned premise.

Production values suit the happy superficiality of our hero, whose only research for his fake career is studying a YouTube video and buying a corduroy jacket. Especially fitting is bubbly electronics-heavy music by Sergei Kofman and the production duo Menalon.

Production company: Edyson Entertainment
Cast: Pat Mills, Zahra Bentham, Laytrel McMullen, Alex Ozerov, Kevin Hanchard, Tracey Hoyt
Director-Screenwriter: Pat Mills
Producers: Alyson Richards, Mike MacMillan
Executive producers: Alyson Richards, Ed Gernon
Director of photography: Daniel Grant
Production designer: Zosia Mackenzie
Editor: Bryan Atkinson
Music: Menalon (Joseph Murray, Lodewijk Vos), Sergei Kofman
No rating, 80 minutes