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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

LAFF 2009 Review: West of Pluto

West of Pluto, a look at the lives of suburban Quebecois teenagers by directing team Myriam Verreault and Henry Bernadet, might have been a rougher, edgier, take on the American Teen-style micro-examination of the lives, attitudes and behaviors of those curious creatures, adolescents.
Unfortunately, once it breaks away from the mockumentary style it begins with into attempting to construct an actual plot for the teens to follow, the film devolves into a not-terribly-interesting storyline that includes all the usual suspects of teen bad behavior: cruelty to peers, sibling battles, hormones, unrequited adolescent love, rudeness toward the ‘rents, and a birthday party that goes out of control. (In other words, everything we’ve seen teens do in just about every teen film ever made.)
Where are the parents of these teens? Certainly not particularly involved in the lives of their wayward offspring or much interested in doling out consequences for bad behavior, as we see them primarily as either ineffectually nagging, awkwardly trying to connect, or being yelled at and berated by their bratty teenagers. These kids don’t seem to have a lot of limits, or if they do they treat both the rules and their parents with utter disregard. They certainly wouldn’t survive long acting like that if they were living under my roof, as my oldest, now-grown daughter, could attest (and frequently does to her younger siblings when they toe the waters of mouthiness or disrespect).
At any rate, we meet this particular group of wayward youths as they awkwardly present class projects on things they’re passionate about, an eclectic mix ranging from the expected (music, dancing, skateboarding) to the quirky (a last-minute Ben Affleck substitution after another student “steals” a girl’s idea to talk about Matt Damon), to the geeky (Pluto, in particular its revoked planetary status). It’s actually a clever way to introduce us to the main characters we’ll be spending time with for the next 90 minutes or so, and it’s too bad the rest of the film doesn’t keep the same tone as the opening bit.

There’s some interesting stuff in there with a pack of adolescent girls arguing passionately with each other for and against Quebec seceding from Canada. And no, I didn’t find it unbelievable that teenage girls might discuss political one minute and deconstruct the relative cuteness of boys in their class the next; such is the flittiness of the adolescent mind. I believe that adults generally operate from the assumption that all teenagers are both unaware of the greater world around them and interested in little more than acting like hooligans, which is not in fact my own adult experience working and interacting with teens in various capacities. But perhaps the directors have had a different experience with the teens in their own lives, and this film reflects that.
Even the one who does actually take an interest (actually, the boyfriend of the kid’s mother) goes out in the wee hours to track down his girlfriend’s son, but then gets so sidetracked by finding another teen who’s been beaten that it seems to completely slip his mind that he left the house to track down a particular kid, almost as if he finds one teenage boy interchangable for the next.
And by the bye, maybe things are different in Quebec (feel free to enlighten me, my Canadian friends), but here in the U.S., if you bring someone else’s kid to the hospital, they don’t allow you to seek medical treatment for non-life threatening injuries for a child who’s not yours without a medical release signed by the kid’s parent. The first thing that would happen is the kid’s own mother would have been called, and once she arrived this guy would have been sent on his way, rather than sent home with an adolescent boy unrelated to him. I guess that would have negated the need for this man to spend all this time bonding with a teen boy; perhaps it was the intent of the filmmakers that the adult man’s attention to this adolescent boy was completely innocent, but it felt a bit creepy to me.
West of Pluto would perhaps be most interesting here to older teen and young adult audiences, assuming you could actually draw them to a subtitled arthouse film without tits, ass or explosions, because it might be interesting, from the viewpoint of a narcissistic teenager, to see a film about teenagers in Quebec who act more or less like teenagers in Iowa or Texas of California.
Unfortunately, if they didn’t come out in droves to see versions of themselves on film in the more accessible American Teen, I can’t imagine they’d line up much for this one. For the adults in the audience, while there’s much that looks familiar to us with regard to our own recollections of adolescent behavior, there’s only so much we need to see of teenagers acting stupid or cruel. Yeah, high school sucked. We’ve all got heads crammed full of memories of ourselves and our friends engaging in these types of behaviors (or perhaps, having said behaviors perpetrated on us by a crowd cooler than ours), and this film doesn’t have much illuminating or original to say about the teenage condition, in Quebec or elsewhere.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon