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Whole New Thing

Ok, it’s hard for me to talk about the movie without getting a little recappy, so bear with me.  If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, Whole New Thing is written by Daniel MacIvor, who also stars.  It’s about a 13-year-old boy, Emerson Thorsen (Aaron Webber), who is going through several transitions.  

 

Emerson is smart and precocious.  Physically, he’s a striking presence.  Pale and delicate, he’s naturally androgynous and he goes with it.  He grows his hair long and wears necklaces and interesting sweaters.

 
He's an only child.  He lives with his parents in a remote location, where he’s been home-schooled.  His math isn’t where it should be and his mother, Kaya (Rebecca Jenkins) is concerned that they’re not able to give him everything he needs, at home.  So she enrolls him in the local middle school.  He meets and connects with his teacher, Don (MacIvor).  First on an intellectual level, and then on a deeper level.  He wants to be close to Don, but he doesn’t know exactly how he wants that to be.

 

Don, for his part, is delighted and touched by Emerson.  He reaches out to help him adjust to school and even changes his English class curriculum to include Shakespeare, at Emerson’s wise suggestion.  Emerson asks Don to be the first to read Emerson’s epic-length, hand-written novel, “The Fire of Evermore.”  J  Don likes Emerson very much, and in a very paternal and respectful way.

 

Emerson discovers that Don is gay.  Emerson silently decides that he’ll connect with Don on this basis.  He finds a gay porn magazine in Don’s house and tries to mimic the cover-boy’s pose in the mirror, a try-out to be the object of Don’s affection.

 

I don’t think the film tells us whether Emerson is gay.  He becomes aroused by the sight of a breast at one point.  But when a bully at school calls him gay, he’s non-committal.  He’s not defensive or off-balance.  Whether or not he is gay, he doesn’t mind being considered gay.  He just doesn’t like getting hit in the face.

 

Emerson writes Don a love sonnet, but then insists that he’s not gay and he’s not propositioning Don.  He says, “I just want to feel closer.”  Don is disarmed by Emerson’s attitude and the intellectual challenge of it. 

 

Despite good relationships with his students and colleagues, Don is, in fact, lonely.  And Emerson is so genuinely loving that, over time, Don opens up a little and wanders into situations with Emerson that he doesn’t intend.  Don isn’t stupid.  He understands this landscape, every step of the way, but his desire to help Emerson and protect Emerson’s feelings leads him into a compromising situation.  Emerson literally lures Don into Emerson’s family sauna and tries to get him naked.  Don leaves.  When Don isn’t in school the next day, Emerson bolts from the classroom and hides in the back of Don’s truck. 

 

Don is on his way to see his ex-boyfriend in another town.  Along the way, Emerson is appalled to walk in on Don’s liaison with a stranger in a roadside men’s room.  He asks, “You wouldn’t make love with me, but you’d have sex with someone you didn’t even know?”  It’s interesting that Emerson has told Don “I just want to be closer” and that he thinks an anonymous blowjob in a bathroom stall has anything to do with that.  Consistently, the writer and director make it clear that sex is just a vehicle for Emerson.  Sexuality is something he seizes as a conduit for an emotional connection with Don. 

 

This is why I would challenge anyone who calls this an exploitative movie, even though it deals with a 13-year-old who wants to have sex with an adult.  The director (Amnon Buchbinder) says that the movie examines the kind of child who is very bright and thinks he can fully engage the world because he’s so adept, intellectually.  Emerson finds (or, more accurately, we find) that he isn’t emotionally mature enough to navigate adult relationships or to get himself what he truly wants.  And what he wants isn’t sex, really.

 

We get an older-generation counterpoint to Emerson’s struggle.  Emerson’s parents, for all their emotional frankness and lack of convention, are stuck in a stereotypically fading marriage.  Emerson’s dad, Rog (beautifully played by Robert Joy) is some minorly famous green inventor.  He’s high-verbal, intellectual, and a little pompous.   Kaya tries to connect with him, sexually and emotionally, with mixed results.  She feels unappreciated.   Kaya meets a local guy named Denny (Callum Keith Rennie).  Unlike Emerson, Kaya doesn’t want to know somebody better, she sort of wants to know somebody less.  Her rite of passage is the affair, which leads her to realize that she is the kind of person who would cheat on her husband.  And not for love, but for sex.  For something different.  And maybe to test her husband a little.

 

As usual, CKR delivers a focused and restrained performance.  (Shut up.)  He has four brief scenes and very few lines, but he communicates with incredible precision who Denny is.  Who Denny is is very simple and a little cold.  Not without smiles or lightness.  Not mean or cruel.  Just sort of…untouchable. 

 

Denny meets Kaya at a party at her house, surrounded by her friends, and with her husband just across the living room.  Denny moves in quickly on Kaya.  “I’ve had my eye on you.”  Kaya:  “Should I be concerned about that?”  He moves in closer and looks away and smiles that smile.  Denny (softly):  “Yeah, I think you should be very concerned about that.”  He’s charming and frank and you can feel Kaya’s breath being sucked out of her.  But then zoom out.  If she were single and this were a different kind of party, it would be a meet-cute kind of thing.  But she’s married, she’s in her own house and he just doesn’t care. 

 

A few days later, he calls the house and Rog answers the phone.  Denny doesn’t hang up, he asks for Kaya.  Kaya takes the phone into the next room.

 

Denny’s very direct, which we (and Kaya) find disarming.  Disarming because we mistake it for courage.  But it’s not courage if you have nothing to lose.  Denny’s not afraid of you.  He walks across the room and takes Kaya like he would walk over and take a pretzel from the bowl.  Deftly, but without fear or hesitation.  Because…why not?  He won’t be hurt; you’ll back down before he will.  He won’t be embarrassed; he doesn’t care what you think.  He’s untouchable.  (In fact, this guy scared me more than some of CKR’s more evil roles.  Because I know this guy, you know?)

 

Later, at Denny’s house, they’ve just had sex on the floor.  She observes, admiringly, that he’s a man of few words.  Then says, “This is not something I do…sleep with other men.”  Denny smiles.  Denny (lightly):  “Seems like you do now.”  Kaya sits up.  She’s disturbed at the twist her life is taking.  As she haltingly puts her feelings into words, Denny interjects.  “You know what?  You’re right.  I don’t like to talk.”  And pulls her down to the floor again.  All this is without menace, without aggression or any sort of willful insensitivity.  He’s just uninterested.  Her musings are starting to bore him a little and he decides he wants to have sex again.

 

For proof that he can play the exact counterpoint to this --- the guy who conceals his intense and focused disgust for women with casual charm, see Suspicious River or Picture Claire.

 

Kaya and Denny are at yet another party at her house --- I guess it’s a regular pot-luck for neighbors.  From across the room, Rog watches Kaya talk to Denny.  He watches as Denny quickly leans in a little too close --- looking too directly into her eyes --- then pulls back.  He watches Denny put a cigarette deeply into his mouth, draw it out through his lips, and then put it between Kaya’s teeth. (Yeah.  I might have rewound that a few times.)  Rog sees the chemistry and knows what’s up.  Completely unnerved, he delivers an impromptu rant to the party about nothing in particular, but the affair for sure.  Kaya gets it.  Denny is hilariously, albeit mildly, boggled.

 

My favorite scene is Denny’s last.  It’s so, so short.  No lines, just a gesture.  The reason I loved it was that Callum had already done his work.  So, as it got going, I realized that I already knew Denny so well that I knew what he would do when the moment came. 

 

It starts this way:  Rog follows Kaya to Denny’s house.  Through the window, he sees them having sex.  Rog wishes he were Kaya.  (No wait, that’s me.)  Ok, Kaya leaves the house, and then so does Denny.  Rog lets himself into the house and, wild-eyed with rage and confusion, takes an axe to Denny’s belongings.  He emerges from a smoke-filled house, holding some kind of ventilation stack.  (So I don’t think he set fire to the house, he just filled it with smoke from the furnace.  I guess.  I’m not a heating professional.)  Rog is sooty and insane.  Fantastic face on Robert Joy at this point.

 

Lights in the driveway; Denny’s home.  Denny gets out of his car and walks up the driveway.  Rog runs down the driveway toward Denny.  Rog sputters to himself, “Ok, good…” He’s so worked up that he’s not afraid of a confrontation anymore. 

 

At this point in most movies, the husband and lover have a fist fight.  Or they have a shouting match where the lover tells the husband things he doesn’t want to face about his wife.  Or they have an argument wherein the husband reveals that he really loves his wife and the lover reveals that he doesn’t.  Or one of them kills the other one.  In some way, they get into it.

 

But at this moment I was thinking.  “No.  That’s what Rog wants, but Denny doesn’t care.  Rog is charging at him down the driveway and Denny isn’t interested in why or in anything Rog has to say.  And Denny has nothing he wants to say --- not to make a point, not to feel triumphant over another man, certainly not to defend Kaya.  Denny wants nothing but Rog’s absence.  Denny’s annoyed, but not invested.  At all.”

 

So, as Rog reaches Denny, ready to fight, Denny simply pushes him down.  Not just down, to the side, which was the beauty part for me.  Out of Denny’s path.  Rog goes down like a stone and Denny trudges past, presumably to survey the damage and call the police.  It’s elegant.

 

I loved the end of the movie.  The situation is this:  After realizing Emerson has left school, Emerson’s parents find the love sonnet he wrote for Don.  Emerson ends up far from home in Don’s car --- more to the point, in his gay teacher’s car.  Next to the no-doubt-notorious roadside men’s room.  Emerson’s parents are only able to find him by hitting Don’s redial and reaching Don’s ex-lover, at whose home they show up to reclaim their son. 

 

Bad, right?  The viewer has that pit in her stomach, fearing trouble for our hero.  Because Don, at every turn, has tried to do the right thing for Emerson and now the facts make it look otherwise.  But this is no Lifetime movie.  There’s none of the tired stuff about Don being accused of impropriety and getting fired.  Emerson’s parents really are smart, thoughtful people, and they recognize the situation for what it is.  As Emerson naps on the boyfriend’s couch, his parents are amazed and amused at how little they understand about what’s going on in the mind of their own son.  

 

So, fantastic performances all around.  MacIvor was the revelation for me.  He walks such a delicate line with this character.  He’s lonely and mostly alone and he’s driven to anonymous sex.  Which sounds a little pathetic, right?  But the way he conveys Don’s affection and care for Emerson leave us with the impression of strength, more than anything else.  He’s also funny and smart and sweet and open and flexible --- the kind of character you might like in real life. 

 

I’ve seen Rebecca Jenkins in only two roles, so far, but I really like her.  She has this translucent quality.  You can see her emotions flickering just below the surface, all the time.   She’s cheating on her husband and we should disapprove of her, but the way she lets the viewer inside makes it hard to feel anything but sympathy.  Her face, as she realizes what her life is becoming, is just heartbreaking. 

 

Webber is also fantastic.  He nails that quality that young teenagers have.  On the cusp of something, they’re at once incredibly needy and outrageously haughty and prickly.  The disdain fairly drips off Emerson as he surveys some of the people in his life, yet he’s so sweet, so searching that the viewer finds him precious.  Wants to protect him, as Don does.

 

So I found this to be a frank, challenging, beautiful, sensitive, fresh take on the teen coming-of-age movie.   Anybody have any thoughts? 




Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
tomfoolery815
Oct. 12th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
So I found this to be a frank, challenging, beautiful, sensitive, fresh take on the teen coming-of-age movie. Anybody have any thoughts?
It is all of those things, excellently done. Aaron Webber is remarkably talented. But I only have time to say this much more:

Roger, you have to be unbelievably self-absorbed to not get the hint when your wife says "Well then you don't object?", then takes off the rest of her clothes.

Most men would say yes to just about anything if all questions were presented in this manner. But not Roger.

I'll be back later to talk some more.
tomfoolery815
Oct. 13th, 2008 10:40 am (UTC)
Emerson discovers that Don is gay. Emerson silently decides that he’ll connect with Don on this basis. He finds a gay porn magazine in Don’s house and tries to mimic the cover-boy’s pose in the mirror, a try-out to be the object of Don’s affection.
Here's my take: Emerson is a brilliant boy; always thinking, processes things very quickly. Exhibit A: Don's on his way over to the house and Kaya is fussing over his hair. Emerson says "What are you trying to prove?" He's zoomed past What Kaya is doing and has pulled up to Why.

Additionally, you just know that Roger and Kaya have instilled open-mindedness and "Those are society's rules" in Emerson's head, and it's already taken deep root. Exhibit B: Emerson knows his way around a joint. Exhbit C (Yes, I'm lawyering you): He doesn't press or presume when Don says he had a partner without using a gender pronoun. He says "They didn't ..."

So Emerson has hit puberty. No borders and limitations on his life to this point; why would sexuality be any different?

He notes the woman cupping her breast as he gives her a massage. (I enjoyed it too, Em.) He gets aroused. He goes off and masturbates. (I've seen breasts before.) He kisses a girl at school to get the bullies off his back. Mere logic.

He's drawn to Don (more on that in the next post), so he decides he wants sexual intimacy with Don. He says "I want you to know how I feel ... about you. It's not about being gay. Or straight. Those are just labels."

So I lean toward Emerson having nascent bisexuality. Whomever he's attracted to most at the moment, that's the person he's going to want to kiss and caress.
mary_the_fan
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:29 pm (UTC)
Most men would say yes to just about anything if all questions were presented in this manner. But not Roger.

Yeah, Tom, I think that's one of the reasons that this whole subplot works. It doesn't excuse Kaya's affair, but it helps us see the despair and loneliness that drive her to Denny. Roger really has, almost recklessly, ignored and devalued his wife.

WHO by the way is WAY MORE ATTRACTIVE than he is and though he might think they're on their own little Planet of the Intellectuals where such things don't matter, HELLO Roger: Old Marriage, little beardy husband, no sex and....Incoming! Hot Guy at 12:00. You need to love her twice as hard to fend off that kind of barrage.

Rebecca Jenkins does a great job in helping us understand why Roger is lulled into complacency. Because, clearly, she married Roger for his mind, his personality, the world view that they shared. All kinds of great, thinky, bondy things. She's not shallow. But she is human and she needs to be loved. Just like everybody else does. ;-) /Smiths

Edited at 2008-10-14 04:34 am (UTC)
mary_the_fan
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:38 pm (UTC)

Heh. Poor Daniel MacIvor. This is the only icon I have of him, at this point, so he's perpetually shocked. *g*

Yeah, Tom, I can see Emerson as bisexual. My view is that everyone lies somewhere on the continuum, and that social pressures and taboos push many of us toward the "straight" end. Or even the gay end, I would imagine. So Emerson is almost an experiment. Take away all constraints and see where a person truly lands on the scale.

I DO think people land in some place. I don't think Emeron is choosing whom to be attracted to, just that he is not tempted to lie about it, as many of the rest of us are.

I think your guess that he's bisexual is as good as any, though I don't know whether we have enough info to decide "what" he is. His love for Don makes him want to be gay, in a way, so it's hard to trust that. But, on the other hand, you would then think that he'd jump at the chance to define himself as gay when Don asks...

It's muddy and I sort of like it. I like Emerson's challenge to Don and to the viewer: Why do I have to define myself for you? I'm telling you who I want. That's all you need to know.
mary_the_fan
Oct. 13th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
Forgot to say: This is a great example. Well done.

Here's my take: Emerson is a brilliant boy; always thinking, processes things very quickly. Exhibit A: Don's on his way over to the house and Kaya is fussing over his hair. Emerson says "What are you trying to prove?" He's zoomed past What Kaya is doing and has pulled up to Why.

tomfoolery815
Oct. 14th, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
Thanks. :-)
aunt_deen
Oct. 13th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
My most vivid memory of watching this (I know you see this coming, mary) is the scene in which Emerson makes a game attempt at a full-on seduction of Don. They're alone in Emerson's house, he offers Don a drink, he invites him into the sauna, he takes off his clothes.

At this point, aunt_deen was in full teacher mode, freaking out at the idea of being in this sort of compromising position with a student. Emerson then ups the ante by grabbing Don's keys and then running into the sauna. Don follows, angrily demanding his keys back. And aunt_deen is covering her eyes in horror, shrieking, "Go sit on the porch, you idiot! Just sit there and wait for his parents to come home! DO NOT GO INTO THAT SAUNA!"

But yes, the movie is less obvious than that and is telling a more interesting story. But it did take a few minutes for my heartbeat to slow down.

And I was really moved by the whole climax to that aspect of the story. Emerson is so hurt by the idea that Don finds him unsuitable as a sexual partner. He feels that it indicates a lack of respect. Because his parents have never treated him as a child. He's been a little adult his whole life, socializing with their friends, comfortable with being nude in the company of his nude parents, calmly discussing matters of sex and masturbation, encouraged to administer half-naked massages to adult women in full, accepting view of his parents and their peers. So for Don to treat him as a child, even though Don obviously has a tremendous amount of respect and affection for him, feels like a slap in the face.

So he reacts as a child would, with anger and hurt and spite and he runs away into the arms of a complete asshole. While Don waits, terrified and helpless, back at the rest stop, Emerson realizes just how unready he is for the world of adult sex. The moment when he cries in Don's arms is so touching and it shows Emerson as the child he is and how important it is for him to have an adult to lean on.

It's just a brilliant movie all around.
mary_the_fan
Oct. 14th, 2008 12:17 am (UTC)
deeeeeeen! Thanks for coming by.

...accepting view of his parents and their peers. So for Don to treat him as a child, even though Don obviously has a tremendous amount of respect and affection for him, feels like a slap in the face.

Yes, this fits the director's view of Emerson (in my post, above) which is that he is intellectually precocious; because he's so smart, he believes he can engage the world as an adult.

But you offer another reason why he feels this way, which is interesting. Which is (if I may paraphrase you) that Emerson's belief that he is equipped in this way is continually validated by the (few) adults in his life! So he has no reason to believe he's ill-equipped until he actually steps into some real life stuff.

And yes, the freakout...I was there and it was as you say. :-) Totally get that, and I think it works for the movie! We really feel the danger that Don is in!

That's essential to one of the things I enjoyed about the movie. I think I said it this way in my post on Canadian movies...that Don's steadfast kindness toward Emerson is sort of a gamble. In the end, and because this is a smarter movie than most, the gamble pays off.

I don't get the impression that Don doesn't understand how risky his relationship with Emerson is....I get the impression that he chooses not to reject Emerson at each step, even when Emerson very much deserves it. This, IMO, makes Don a MUCH more heroic character than he would be otherwise. He does risk something to save this boy from a devastating emotional experience.

tomfoolery815
Oct. 14th, 2008 12:39 am (UTC)
The moment when he cries in Don's arms is so touching and it shows Emerson as the child he is and how important it is for him to have an adult to lean on.
It truly was, Deen. I had such a strong "Good boy!" feeling at that moment. And then again later, when he was sleeping in his dad's (mom's?) lap.

I can totally see where the teacher part of you responded to the sauna-invitation moment. And I'm guessing the Shakespeare lover in you must have enjoyed the fact that, after Emerson's demolition of "Snowboard Snowjob" (what a great lame-book title!), that the Bard energizes and invigorates both Emerson and Don.


Edited at 2008-10-14 05:05 pm (UTC)
tomfoolery815
Oct. 14th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
WHO by the way is WAY MORE ATTRACTIVE than he is and though he might think they're on their own little Planet of the Intellectuals where such things don't matter, HELLO Roger: Old Marriage, little beardy husband, no sex and....Incoming! Hot Guy at 12:00. You need to love her twice as hard to fend off that kind of barrage.
Ha! Excellently stated. :-) And yes, he does.

Roger would rather play Solitaire than socialize at the potluck he's hosting. So self-absorbed, he doesn't see Kaya's affair coming.

They seemed to be telling us that Kaya was dying for a man's attention, or at least interaction with a man, even before Denny came along and knocked her over with a spiky-haired, lascivious feather. When Don came over to the house, and Roger is going on about "I've been working on a new approach ...", Kaya cuts him off and says "How about you, Don?"

But she is human and she needs to be loved. Just like everybody else does. ;-) /Smiths
Ha! And she lets Denny get his hands ... on her mammary glands. Oh-oh, you handsome devil ...


tomfoolery815
Oct. 14th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
You know ... Kaya cutting off Roger in Don's presence is probably more about Roger than a desire for male attention.

M, you said -- in regard to Betty Draper's lemon-yellow bikini (And, by the way: Wow) -- words along the lines (went hunting, can't find, will attempt to paraphrase) that there is little more humiliating than getting all dressed up (or undressed) for your man and having him not notice, or reject. I would have to think, male or female, there's nothing worse than presenting yourself naked to your partner and having them not even the least bit interested in sex. Then tell you to put clothes on.

I think that's one of the reasons that this whole subplot works. It doesn't excuse Kaya's affair, but it helps us see the despair and loneliness that drive her to Denny.
I agree, and I'd say that it ties nicely to the main plotline, Emerson coming of age.

Emerson looks around, and he sees two of the three most important adults in his life going off and having sex with strangers. So when the chicken hawk pulls up in his car, Emerson -- brilliant but immature -- concludes that he will follow Kaya's and Don's example.

Edited at 2008-10-14 05:41 am (UTC)
aunt_deen
Oct. 14th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC)
And I'm guessing the Shakespeare lover in you must have enjoyed the fact that, after Emerson's demolition of "Snowboard Snowjob" (what a great lame-book title!), that the Bard energizes and invigorates both Emerson and Don.

Mostly I was just envying that he had a class which preferred Shakespeare to the crappy YA novel.


tomfoolery815
Oct. 14th, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I can see where you'd feel that way.

(Great icon!)
tomfoolery815
Oct. 15th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC)
The moment -- well, it's a pair of moments -- that inspired the ode to wordless scenes on my LJ was the moment where Roger comes home, disheveled and smelling strongly of smoke, and Kaya asked what happened to him.

I just love the way they set up the shot: You hear the sirens and see the red-and-blue lights through the frosted glass of their front door, but the scene ends without explanation. Show me, don't tell me. I love it.

Do you guys suppose Roger was released on his own recognizance? It's a minor point, but if Kaya's home alone feeding the wood-burning stove when Roger returns ...
mary_the_fan
Oct. 15th, 2008 12:30 am (UTC)
Do you guys suppose Roger was released on his own recognizance? It's a minor point, but if Kaya's home alone feeding the wood-burning stove when Roger returns ...

No idea. I don't know Canadian law...

Ha! No, here's my wank. Denny calls the police, gives them Roger's address. They haul Roger in, but the police need Denny to press charges. That means driving to the station and filling out a police report. He can't be bothered.

So if there's no charge, Roger's free to go.
tomfoolery815
Oct. 15th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
the police need Denny to press charges. That means driving to the station and filling out a police report. He can't be bothered.
Ha! That's it! :-) Denny thought that making the call would be the end of his responsibility in the situation. :-)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )