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Something rotten in Mount Pleasant

Film shows yin and yang of Vancouver matrix

Reviewed by Vivian Moreau

Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant is a neighbourhood that encompasses what has been described as the prettiest block in the city. With its narrow, tree-lined streets, turn-of-the-last century homes and sweeping views of the North Shore mountains, its charm has prompted young families to move to its reasonably affordable housing.

But as director Ross Weber points out in Mount Pleasant , it is also a fringe neighbourhood, frequented by sex trade workers, druggies and grocery cart-pushing homeless. It’s a tectonic-plate pushing mix of society that often grate against each other, with despairing results.

Mount Pleasant the film follows the interconnections between three couples who live in or are affected by the neighbourhood’s duplicity. Stay-at-home dad Doug and addictions counsellor Sarah have just moved into a tiny alley-lined bungalow with preschool daughter Courtney. A few blocks away is Nadia, a teenage heroin addict turned prostitute who supports her equally addicted desultory boyfriend, Nick. Indulging in Nadia on a regular basis is Point Grey realtor Steve, limpid before his rigid, narrow, do gooder wife, Anne. Rounding out this six degrees of separation crew is Megan, Steve and Anne’s emerging teen daughter.

The taut framework that connects the three couples is tightened to inquisition intensity after Courtney pricks herself on a needle tossed in an alley beside her house. Stalwart Doug becomes an empathetic neighbourhood vigilante, joining night patrols, shooing away dumpster divers, and confronting SUVs parked behind his house that contain, you guessed it, Steve and Nadia.

As Nadia lists between wanting to flee her drug-addled life and being increasingly drawn to it, Anne bitchily raises money for a new drug treatment centre while cutting her supposedly impotent husband and achingly shy but luminous daughter off at the knees, and Doug and Sarah discover just who is the rock and who is the wall, the camera follows relentlessly, duplicating Vancouver’s ubiquitous flat planes of steel blues and grey.

Weber has pulled admirable, solid performances from O.C.’s Kelly Rowan as the icy but ultimately fragile Anne, DaVinci veteran Ben Ratner as Doug, the father determined to defend his tender family turf, and 18-year-old Katie Boland as the husky-voiced, musky-haired Nadia, a girl who’s learned too much too fast.

With constant movement between the three couples, Mount Pleasant is reminiscent of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's classic series, Three Colours , a triptych that intertwined three families through three films with red, white, and blue motifs and filters. Relentless in focusing on Vancouver’s monochromatic grey tones and muted interiors, Weber, who both wrote the screenplay and directed Mount Pleasant , has counterpointed visuals with dialogue plain and blunt enough to feel real.

“You gotta have some faith,” Doug tells Sarah as they wait before Courtney can be tested for HIV.

“What are you going to do if she’s sick,” Sarah asks as Courtney listens from a hallway, “Watch her grow up and die before finishing high school? Doug, I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

Kudos must go to Haley Adrianna Guiel as Courtney, the tiny person faced with watching her parents unravel knowing she is the object of their distress. Staring outdoors to the yard her father demands she avoid, Courtney’s resignation is matter-of-factly palpable.

Genevieve Buechner is equally impressive as Megan, the girl verging on womanhood who craves her repressed dad’s compliments and persists in seeking more even when it comes to comparing herself to his lovers, bought and paid for.

“Were they prettier than me?” Megan asks.

“Honey, they were different than you.”

“How were they different than me?! Dad? Dad?”

“Because you’re my daughter,” Steve whispers, after she’s left the room.

Weber has produced a small but brilliant gem with a disquieting resonance that will be sure to provoke discussion after its Whistler film festival viewing. Mount Pleasant screens Friday, Dec. 1, 9 p.m. at Village 8 Cinemas.