March 18, 2005
By Wesley Morris
For fans of the well-made eccentric Canadian ensemble comedy, today is a good day at the Brattle Theatre, where Daniel MacIvor's ''Wilby Wonderful" begins a weekend run. For those unacquainted with the genre, this movie, set in the course of a day in small-town Nova Scotia, is a worthy introduction, landing somewhere between Don McKellar's underrated Y2K romance ''Last Night" and the over-preciousness of Jeremy Podeswa's ''The Five Senses."
MacIvor, who wrote, directed, and acts in ''Wilby," introduces us to about a dozen characters, each of whom is caught in momentary distress about life on the eponymous little island.
Since his wife left him, Dan Jarvis (James Allodi) has been feeling suicidal. His attempts are consistently, amusingly interrupted by fellow islanders, like Duck (Callum Keith Rennie), the friendly local handyman, and Carol (Sandra Oh), the uptight real estate agent who's trying to sell Dan's house. Ssshh: The mayor (Maury Chaykin) might be a buyer.
Carol's husband, Buddy (Paul Gross), a Wilby cop, is having an affair with Sandra (Rebecca Jenkins). She left town years ago and is back with her teenage daughter Emily (Ellen Page), who in the jaunty opening sequence runs across town for a make-out session with a boy.
Wilby is one of those traditional-seeming towns that is actually more socially progressive than it appears. You get the sense from the punks and the gays and the lone woman of color that anyone could live here if only they knew it existed. The place is also so dull that the mayor might have to manufacture a little scandal over at the local park so he can benefit for his own selfish reasons.
But not even municipal corruption seems all that terrible in Wilby. Nothing extraordinary happens here. But nothing especially ordinary does either. MacIvor, who plays Stan, Buddy's dim partner, is quite good at not crowding the characters with all kinds of plot. The film is more behavior-driven than anything else, and most of the cast has worked with each other before, so the film has a chummy atmosphere.
Admirers of Mina Shum's 1994 romantic comedy ''Double Happiness" might be pleased to see the reunion of Rennie and Oh (the ''pour girl" from ''Sideways"). And anyone desperate to see what happened to Gross since CBS's Mountie-in-Chicago show, ''Due South," went off the air need look no further.
Despite its hipster-coffeehouse soundtrack, foul mouth, randy characters, and violent patches, ''Wilby" is wholesome and ultimately remarkable for its optimism. The film's title stems from a mishap with a banner, but it's also a prediction that sums up the local state of mind: We'll Be Wonderful. This may not seem like anything special, but you can see where the movie might have taken a dark detour and chose instead to accentuate the positive. There's room for everyone in Wilby except cynics.
--Wesley Morris/ The Boston Globe - Review
By David Nusair
Wilby Wonderful follows in the footsteps of films like Short Cuts and Magnolia - particularly the latter - as it features a wide cast of lonely, miserable people. Writer/director Daniel MacIvor does a wonderful job of establishing this small town - called, coincidentally enough, Wilby - to the extent that we feel like we know the place by the time the movie's over. The cast is uniformly superb, but Paul Gross especially deserves kudos for playing way against type as a scruffy and nondescript cop who's just trying to do the right thing. And as expected with a movie of this ilk, there are certain characters that are far more intriguing than others (ie Sandra Oh's Carol never quite becomes much more than an twitchy annoyance, despite Oh's surprisingly effective performance). MacIvor proves to be a much more effective screenwriter than director, though his low-key style quickly proves to be an ideal match for the material. In the end, Wilby Wonderful is an engaging - though not entirely memorable - look at small town life.
--David Nusair/ Reel Film Reviews - Review