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Some people seem to have been born with their life’s direction pre-programmed. Even when they’re young, they know who they are and where they’re going—and they know exactly what they need to do to get there. Nicholas (Gregory Smith) isn’t one of those people. In his 25 years, he’s tried a little bit of everything. And now the former Mormon missionary and bonsai salesman has once again hit rock bottom. He doesn’t know what to do next—so he does what any directionless youth would do: he goes home.

Nicholas’s parents always feared that he’d return—which is why they never sent a forwarding address when they moved to their seaside retirement home in Nova Scotia. Now they’ll do anything to get him out of their house and on to his next adventure.

But when a disastrous driving lesson leads to dinner with the neighbors, Nicholas becomes obsessed with lonely wife and mother Nina (Fiona Highet)—so he befriends her lovably pre-programmed son, Quang (Siam Yu), in order to learn more about her.

At least for a while, Whirligig is a wonderfully quirky Canadian comedy, with eccentric characters and a beautifully breezy seaside setting. Though Nicholas could be called a slacker, he’s a different kind of slacker—the kind who puts his heart and soul into one ridiculous idea after another (only to fail miserably, time and time again). He’s passionate but misguided, with a serious case of career ADD. And, no matter how much he’s screwed up in the past, you can’t help but get caught up in his stories, his enthusiasm, and his general kookiness.

Then again, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree for this family. His parents have plenty of quirks, too. His calm, quiet father (Brian Downey) spends his days hiding in his workshop, tinkering away to create imaginative wooden whirligigs, while his energetic mother (Jennifer Overton) has the same kind of infectious enthusiasm that makes Nicholas such a charming character.

Twelve-year-old Quang, meanwhile, makes the perfect foil for his kooky neighbors. The child of driven, artistic parents, this home-schooled young flautist already seems to have his whole life planned. But his friendship with Nicholas opens him up to new possibilities—and even he has a few hilarious surprises up his sleeve.

If Whirligig had sought to be nothing more than a quirky comedy about an aimless 20-something and his fed-up parents, it could have been a wildly entertaining little movie. Unfortunately, though, that’s not the case. Director Chaz Thorne and writer Michael Amo try a little too hard to give the film a heartwarming message—and, in the process, they end up dragging their delightfully eccentric characters through all kinds of uncomfortable drama. As the story plays out, it gets heavier and more dramatic—until, by the end, audiences will have all but forgotten how much fun it was in the beginning.

Whirligig has a wonderful sense of humor—so it’s unfortunate that the filmmakers decided that they needed to do more than simply make audiences laugh. Instead of a lovably wacky comedy, it’s awkward and uneven, with quirky characters who deserved much better.

Ed. Note: Whirligig is currently playing at film festivals like the recent Cleveland International Film Festival. For more information, visit WhirligigTheMovie.com.

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