By Stephen Mayne @finalreel
It takes something a little bit out there to reveal how crushingly conventional so much of what we watch is. We all love the familiarity that comes with genre of course, and conventions often become conventions because they’re simply the best damn way of doing something, but where’s the excitement? As far as family films go, Canadian émigré Kenton Hall knows. His feature debut A Dozen Summers shows its budgetary constraints, and with such a frenetic rapid-fire approach, has a fair share of misses, but who cares when it’s so much fun.
The first spark of inspiration comes in the casting of his twin daughters Scarlet and Hero as Maisie and Daisy McCormack, two 12 year-old school-kids who manage to hijack a movie, dragging the camera and a disembodied narrator (voiced by former Doctor Who Colin Baker) into their world. The story is essentially that of their early teenage lives, punctuated by all the seemingly minor molehills that have a tendency to explode into mountains for impressionable kids. But remember they have that camera, allowing the intrepid duo to edit scenes in whatever direction their crazy imaginations take them.
Using this ingenious conceit, we get jumps from a sinister interrogation scene where their father Henry (played by Kenton himself) threatens to torture a soft toy, to zombie classmates, showdowns with bullies and a high stakes robbery on a local convenience store. Mixed into the middle are two children trying to thread their way through the pain of divorced parents, the pain of humiliation at the hands of bullies, and the pain of young romance. A lot of pain really, all handled with disarming humour by Hall.
There’s something delightful in the trawl through an exaggerated montage of their mother’s (Sarah Warren) new boyfriends or the gentle mockery of the titles of their author father’s books when they’re looking to play matchmaker. Even a series of deliberately bad puns stay the right side of charming, and the occasional knowing wink to the camera is achieved without the ensuing smugness that often follows the oh so smart tearing down of the fourth wall.
Not everything comes off, which is hardly a surprise in a film so obdurately following its own path. The speed of the jokes leads to a fair few misses, and there are moments that veer a little too close to politically correct right-on territory, especially when sexuality enters the fray. As you’d expect, the budget leads to a few technical difficulties as well, particularly a scene at the house of their mother’s new boyfriend where the dialogue disappears into the background.
Given he’s mostly working with children, Hall does a good job at eliciting believable performances. There are a few justifiable slips, but not from his leading ladies who remain energetic with a nice line in cool indignation. Hall echoes this in his own performance to round off a delightful entry into a crowded and yet rather staid field. A Dozen Summers is not the finished article, but it’s exciting, original filmmaking. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of the Hall family.
A Dozen Summers is released in cinemas tomorrow, August 21st.