Wilby Wonderful
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Destination: Nova Scotia

Anna Paquin. Ryan Gosling. Rachel McAdams. Seth Rogen. Neve Campbell. What would you guess they all have in common? No, they did not appear in The Hangover together. They’re all Canadians who made it big in Hollywood.

The dark comedy Wilby Wonderful (2004) features some outstanding Canadian actors whose names you’re likely to recognize. It’s written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Daniel MacIvor, and set in his beautiful home province of Nova Scotia.

Some people just can’t get a break, and Don Jarvis (James Allodi), the mild-mannered video store owner in the little island town of Wilby, is one of those guys. His life is falling apart around him–-he’s lost his wife, he’s losing his business and everything else he holds dear—so he’s decided to end it all. Only every time he tries to do the deed, somebody interrupts him.

And he’s not the only one having a bad day. High-strung real estate agent Carol French (Sandra Oh) is desperately trying to impress Wilby’s mayor Brent Fisher (Maury Chaykin) with an elegant sushi dinner–but his wife is allergic to both the shellfish and the flowers. Plus, Carol is the chair of the upcoming Wilby Annual Festival, and Duck, the handyman (Callum Keith Rennie) painted the “Wonderful Wilby” sign backward. Sandra Anderson (Rebecca Jenkins), the town’s “bad girl” who left years ago, has moved back to the island to open a diner, bringing along her teenage daughter Emily (Ellen Page). But it appears Emily is about to repeat all her mother’s mistakes. The water-cooler talk in Wilby is about the local paper’s plan to publish the names of detainees in a recent sweep for gays and drug users at the local beach. But Buddy, a local police officer (Paul Gross), is convinced something’s amiss.

At the end of that day, a broken chair and a body in the wrong place at the wrong time send Wilby’s secrets all tumbling out.

MacIvor is an insightful student of human nature. His characters either have something to prove, or something to bury, and they’re all trying too hard. But most of them, like most of us, are essentially good people who’ve gotten weary of the grind of living, and need just a sliver of hope to put their lives back into perspective. In a move reminiscent of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, it’s the handyman Duck—an unobtrusive, taken-for-granted guy—who sees and appreciates these characters better than they do themselves.

They also, like us, often need a dose of ridiculousness to pull them out of their funk. Look for a bumbling cop (MacIvor plays that small role himself). You’ll even find a little slapstick, and a plot twist that shows that life’s problems aren’t always as deep as we may think.

This is a quiet film, with ironic humor, a little mystery, and some magnificent scenery. It’s perfect for a spring afternoon or evening when you want to sit back, relax, and pretend you can smell the salt breezes coming through your window.

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