Addicted to novelty since 2001

This Movie isn’t Broken, Just a Bit Banal

“This Movie is Broken” is two movies in one. It’s a rockumentary of Broken Social Scene’s free live show on Toronto’s waterfront in July, 2009. It’s also a simple romance between Bruno (Greg Calderone) and Caroline (Georgina Reilly). They’re two young Torontonians spending one last night together at the show before Caroline leaves to study in Paris.

It’s an interesting, modestly experimental (I’m stealing that phrase from somewhere, but I can’t find the source now) conceit from famed Canadian director Bruce McDonald. He’s kind of a structuralist, I think. He routinely reminds us that we are, indeed, watching a movie, using different visual treatments or effects (you can seem examples in the trailer) to shape a film’s tone.

I like the idea, in theory, of re-imagining the concert film as a series of scenes integrated into a narrative film. Unfortunately, I found neither the concert nor Bruno and Caroline’s story particularly compelling.

Yell Theatrically Into the Microphone

Though I acknowledge their popularity as a respected central Canadian super-group, I’m not a Broken Social Scene fan. While their stage performance had a warm, friendly vibe, I found their music pretty banal. There’s a sameness to the long, jammy, guitar-driven songs, and, with the exception of Julie Penner on violin, I didn’t hear any particular artistry in their playing or, in particular, their singing. They seem to subscribe to The Arcade Fire school of live performance: get a bunch of people on stage and get them to yell theatrically into the microphone. It’s decidedly unsubtle. This Letterman performance demonstrates some of what I’m talking about.

On an unrelated note, the current version of the band could be renamed Unwise Choices in Facial Hair. The hipster ‘staches and neck beards were on full display.

The film’s story is thin and unfun. Bruno’s pursuit of Caroline is kind of inexplicable, as she comes off as, well, bitchy. She seems to only consent to the data because Bruno lies and claims that he can get back stage passes (when they eventually do, it’s through an entirely unconvincing bit of pleading). Their night proceeds in, really, the most banal way possible.

If you’re a Broken Social Scene fan, then you’ll enjoy the concert footage. Otherwise, give this movie a miss.

But hey, other people quite liked the film. Katherine Monk, somewhat inexplicably, claims that the music had “so many sonic elements and emotional colours” and that the love story showed “the breathless excitement of mutual attraction”. I saw neither.

Elvis Stole the Show

A quick footnote. I didn’t write about it back in February, but I saw a lot of the Broken Social Scene artists playing in a Cultural Olympiad show entitled “The Neil Young Project”. A bunch of indie artists covered Neil Young songs. I was surprised and a little dismayed at how ordinary the evening was–most of the younger performers just didn’t generate much energy or enthusiasm on-stage.

Their performances were brought into sharp contrast when Elvis Costello came on and just ripped it up with “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Cinnamon Girl”. As Alexander Varty at the Straight said, “the crowd, which had been drifting toward torpidity, rose to its feet and stayed there for the rest of the night.”.

That’s apropos of not very much–maybe just that I’ve been underwhelmed by Broken Social Scene twice now.

2 Responses to “This Movie isn’t Broken, Just a Bit Banal”

  1. Derek K. Miller

    Both BSC and Arcade Fire (and similarly arty-intellectual bands, Canadian or not) do nothing for me. There’s something so arch about their recordings and performances that there’s just no ROCK in them, nothing to make me want to shake my ass. I’d almost always rather listen to, oh, AC/DC or something.

    These acts seem to garner critical praise because they’re the sort of bands that are supposed to, not because their music is actually compelling. At least not to me. You’re right that Elvis Costello shows how to be smart yet vital. We’ll still be singing “Radio Radio” long after Broken Social Scene has faded from memory.

    I think the hot weather has made me cranky.

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