I had a plan for this week's column. As a TIFF-centric offering, I would celebrate the late Canadian actress Tracy Wright, whose two final films are gracing the festival this year -- Trigger and You Are Here. She was a Toronto-centric gem, stolen much too soon from the big screen. But then I saw Trigger, the latest offering from Pontypool and Hard Core Logo director Bruce McDonald, and my plans changed for the inspiring and blissful better.
Imagining a fun film, only hoping it could be half the adventure Pontypool was, I was greeted with what is, perhaps, the best example of female friendship I've ever seen on the big screen. Suddenly, I realized that this column couldn't possibly be a retrospective; its theme was utterly perfect for Girls on Film, destined to please anyone trying to follow the Bechdel Rule, or those hungry for well-developed female characters.
Quite simply, Trigger is to female friendship what Before Sunrise/Before Sunset was for romance.
Like a mixture of Richard Linklater's cinematic duo, Trigger focuses on two people reuniting for the first time in years. Over the course of one night, they try to relate to each other, suffering avalanches of emotion and feeling the understanding and camaraderie only a close friend or lover can offer. Tracy Wright is Vic, a wild rocker who once had a band with Kat (Molly Parker). As the film opens, Vic is waiting, alone, at a fancy restaurant, while Kat dallies at work.
Lateness immediately makes the reunited pair clash. It can't be possible that they were ever friends. Vic arrived early and is pissed off that she had to wait for an hour. She's tight on cash, tethered to a random salad at this frous-frous restaurant, and eager for the waiter to remove the pretentious orchid on the table. Kat, meanwhile, is the typical Hollywood girl -- she's skinny and swathed in expensive clothing; she's a drunk who shouldn't drink, but does. Kat sheepishly apologizes for her lateness, before bragging about how she knows the chef and can get special privileges.
This isn't the best way for the pair to meet, but slowly, aggravation and anger melts as each woman's mere presence chips away at the other's current persona. Bit by bit their old personalities and friendship bubble to the surface, which not only helps them interact, but also puts them face to face with the dangerous rock lifestyle they once lived. Vic tries to silence her alter ego urging her to get high, while Kat tries to recapture the fun of her old life while avoiding the drunken thrill.
Wright and Parker are a brilliant pair, revealing increasing depth with each passing minute and revelation. Though we might not have lived their lives, it's easy to get swept up in the journey from anger and defensiveness to weakness and candor. Both unfold in a realistic manner, flowing from harsh words to utter love as realistically as if they're two bickering sisters who argue before walking off hand in hand.
Like the Sunrise/Sunset films, their conversations fuel the affair. As platitudes melt away, the film is raw and revealing, yet still sarcastic and humorous. And the duo perfectly uphold the Bechdel Rule. They do talk about relationships, but it's quite inconsequential in the longer arc of their communications. They discuss their lifestyles, their work, their memories, their fears. These women are the focus, and even when Don McKellar shows up briefly as Vic's boyfriend (who seems to have had a past with Kat), he's hardly the focus. In fact, he doesn't even become much of a topic for discussion between the women.
Trigger is also a wonderful topper to a career. In one powerful scene, once they have gotten to the point where they can talk honestly, Wright's Vic reveals how and when she hit rock bottom. It's a stunning monologue where director Bruce McDonald's camera never leaves her face. In one shot, Wright unleashes the story of the man she fell in love with, who made her feel complete, but also pulled her into her darkest, drug-fueled days until this one sliver of light led to her redemption.
Though the story was inspired by Louis Malle's My Dinner with Andre, it grew into much more, directly influenced by Wright's incurable pancreatic cancer. Everyone involved wanted to make one last film with the actress, and after an electric table read, the film was rushed into production, a labor of love shot in 9 days, over 4 weekends. Though the talents of each woman would have made this film great even in the best of circumstances, the tragic loss of Wright, and how that inspires and fuels the film, adds a wonderful, bittersweet haze to the affair.
Some wonder what it takes to make a realistic woman for the big screen. Can a man write a well-formed female character? If they do, is it just a result of collaborations with a woman in their life? To me, the success of a female character depends not on the person writing it – Daniel MacIvor wrote the film – but on the humanity put into it, and how a female actress can then infuse that with their own gendered experience. In Trigger, these women are about as real as they come.
Bruce McDonald set out for his own "smart dialogue film," and came out with something a whole lot better. The filmmaker's features are generally a bit easier to find stateside, so please look out for this release. I assure it, it'll be worth your time.