"I have this dream where you're like falling, and then you hit the ground and wake up and you're like, woah!"
Our hero shoots hoops at night. Electric lights mimic the moon. The camera finds beauty in snowbanks and gas pumps. Small northern towns look like this.1 When it hasn't snowed for awhile, the place seems dirty and unpleasant. Fortunately, as this particular day progresses, the snow falls, transforming the world.
He's more outwardly weird; she has deeper emotional and health issues. She's just turned thirteen; he is twelve. Daniel's parents own the local motel. He sleeps in empty rooms and jumps on the beds. He works around the place and occasionally steals alcohol in an effort to win the friendship of older boys he doesn't like. Vera must move from Thunder Bay to Brantford because of her father's new job. Her parents argue along the way, and her mother storms inconveniently from the motel room. Vera doesn't like it when her parents argue; it aggravates her conditions.
pUNK Film's Only (2008) comes with a PG rating, not because of violence, sex, or even particularly strong language. Rather, the warning comes because the young protagonists encounter actual adult problems and topics. Sometimes they discuss these; the rest of the time, they run away and goof off. They're only kids.
As the day progresses, very little happens, and it unfolds slowly and spectacularly. Vera and Daniel engage in realistic conversation, at turns hilarious and sad. Only leaves us as few films with the sense we're eavesdropping on real life, witnessing the birth of a friendship between actual young people.
Only makes excellent use of ambient sound, and it features a fine soundtrack of little-known Indie Canadian acts. On a couple of occasions as the boy and girl walk through the snow, we hear the conflicting sounds of their respective iPods. Later, they each listen to the other's music. The film makes a few additional concessions to the world of online social networking and cell phones but, for the most part, this story could have happened twenty, fifty, or ninety years ago.
Elena Hudgins Lyle and Jacob Veninger Switzer give stunning, natural performances as our misplaced protagonists. Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds, who wrote and directed this low-budget film, also play, with changes of costume and make-up, both very different sets of parents.
Few films like Only exist. It's difficult to make them work and there isn't much profit in succeeding.
It's too bad because, in an industry dominated by overblown remakes and false-ringing histrionics, we need to be reminded that the basic tools of film-making can be used to shed light on human beings.
Written and directed by Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds.
Jacob Switzer as Daniel
Elena Hudgins Lyle as Vera
Ingrid Veninger as Zoe and Karen
Simon Reynolds as Neal and Doug
Christopher Sutherland as Luke
Ryland John Tomlinson as Perry
1. Shooting took place in and around Parry Sound, Ontario, where Veninger grew up.