I love the tagline for this Canadian-made coming-of-age comedy: Overexposed, under-developed.
That pretty much sums up the two main characters. Claire (Tatiana Maslany) is a free-spirited, oversexed girl who lives with a mother that seems more like a roommate. She’s forced to repeat her senior year in high school, and we can see why. She has a terrible attitude, is either late to class or skips entirely, and spends way too much time as a groupie with the 33-year-old lead singer of a punk-funk band (Steven McCarthy / The Elastocitizens) that’s trying to regain the momentum and notoriety they once enjoyed.
On the flip side there’s Henry (Spencer Van Wyck), a nerdy freshman Claire used to babysit who still obviously has a crush on her—or why else keep every object she touched in a shoebox labeled “Claire”? Withdrawn and with a low metabolism that makes you suspect it’s an effort for him to even speak, Henry is a whiz kid with a bright future . . . who uses his knowledge to grow his own pot and make his own LSD. If they were “Winnie the Pooh” characters, Claire would be a promiscuous Tigger and Henry a reluctant-to-go-along Eeyore.
The two take turns as point-of-view characters, and first-time director Kate Miles Melville wastes no time in setting up the contrasts in a parallel edited segment juxtaposing Claire dancing at a rave and then spending the night with the lead singer, while Henry stays at home playing cribbage with his highly conservative parents.
But Claire’s positivism and force-of-life energy give “Picture Day” a decidedly female and feminist orientation. Yes, Claire is promiscuous, but her flaws are no different from anyone else’s. People call Claire derogatory nicknames because of her sexual escapades, and rumors abound. Did she really jerk off the entire swim team? No, it was just 12 guys, and it was a Battle of the Bands, she says in all matter-of-fact honesty. As Maslany says on one of the bonus features, “There’s just so much to her, and she’s tough, bold, outgoing and obnoxious, and I love that. I don’t think you see that a lot in young girls on screen.”
“Picture Day” is rated R for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language, all involving teens” and, because the behavior isn’t exactly “model,” it’s not the kind of coming-of-age film I’d recommend for teenagers. It’s really an adult film, and a complex one at that. Though Claire ostensibly makes Henry her “project” as she tries to teach him to live a little and coaches him on how to lose his virginity with another girl, there comes a time when she accuses Henry of treating HER like a project, and she resents it. The film seems more about coming to terms with one’s personality than a traditional movement towards maturation. And “Picture Day” is, at its core, the story of the growth of a friendship.
Melville also wrote the script, which features intelligent dialogue and well-conceived scenes. A film like this depends on the character of Claire, and Maslany, fresh off of playing a medieval nun in Ken Follett’s “World without End,” is both charismatic and convincing. It helps the realism too that The Elastocitizens are a real band and that their music is scattered throughout.
For an indie film, the picture quality is superb. Even club scenes, which, we learn on the bonus features were real concert footage, are clear and crisp, with no haloing. Colors are strong and natural looking, edges have nice delineation, and black levels are decent. “Picture Day” is presented in 16:9 widescreen.
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 that has some heft and weight behind it, with a bass that is lively, if not pulsing, and a bright timbre throughout. The film is closed captioned.
No bonus features are listed on the box, so it’s a nice surprise to see on the menu that you have your choice of two commentaries: one with the director and editor Dev Singh, and the other with the three main cast members. The latter is especially fun, as they’re on the mic together and share all of the “tricks” and “surprises”—and cut up a bit, so you can see that the chemistry onscreen was the result of chemistry off-screen. There’s so much detail, all of it interesting.
Then there’s “Rolling with Picture Day” (18 min.), which is a loosely edited behind-the-scenes feature with some overlapping. It turns out that Melville wrote “Picture Day” first as a play, and then turned it into a screenplay, so, as she says, she’s been living with the three characters for 20 years now.
Rounding out the bonus features is the theatrical trailer.
“Picture Day” is an indie comedy-drama that won Best Canadian Feature Film and Best Performance at the Whistler Film Festival, and I’m frankly surprised it didn’t do as well at other festivals. Maslany is fantastic as the main character, and there’s just enough irony and complexity to make this slice-of-life film seem relevant.