Writer and director Kate Melville delivers an unpredictable and atypical coming-of-age story in her film, Picture Day that takes the audience on a journey of the pains of high school and post-adolescence.
It’s the start of a new school year in Toronto and super senior Claire (Tatiana Lasmany) still finds herself uninterested and unmotivated to graduate. Rather than making a single friend at school, Claire spends her time hooking up with Jim (Steven McCarthy), the 33-year-old front man for a funk band called The Elastocitizens. Claire acts very nonchalant about her seemingly growing relationship and infatuation with Jim.
At school, Claire befriends Henry (Spencer Van Wyck), a socially awkward freshman who she used to babysit until he was eleven. Not knowing that Henry has been fixated on Claire for years, she feels the need to socialize him and take him away from the threshold of his overbearing parents. She does this by dying his hair blue and starting a rumor that he got kicked out of private school for dealing acid just so he can potentially lose his virginity. Claire is confronted with emotional advances from Henry, which prompts her to uncomfortably leave Toronto with Jim and his band to go on the road. Although Claire thought this was a chance to get closer to Jim, she finds herself at last being in touch with herself.
The acting in the film is nothing short of excellent, especially that of Tatiana Maslany who has recently appeared The Vow and the critically acclaimed BBC series Orphan Black. She realistically makes the transition from a reckless, unapologetic bad ass to a girl who knows she needs to grow up and is going to make a conscious effort to do so. It’s easy to feel bad for Claire, even though she is rebellious, self-destructive and has no one to blame but herself.
The co-mentoring that goes on between Claire and Henry is when the film gets the most laughs. Maslany and Van Wyck work well together in a quirky way, not too awkward that it’s uncomfortable, but awkward enough that their relationship is believable and familiar. The film works well to develop a credible friendship between the two, so much that it’s not important if they get together romantically, which is a question that’s left unanswered.
It’s important to point out the switched gender roles in the film. Melville does a great job going against the typical macho male lead going after the innocent “girl next door.” Instead we have Henry, a shy nerdy virgin who is infatuated with the sexually comfortable and free-spirited Claire. The film is hardly a love story and is a breath of fresh air compared to movies that reinforce male and female roles in relationships.
Claire plays the teenager who we all want to believe we were at one point, naïve yet tough, brash, bold and confident enough to get laid with a single smirk. Part of me wishes I had more Claire in me. She is the new wave feminist who doesn’t need approval from men to fulfill her sexual desires; she is promiscuous because she chooses to be. She gives random hand jobs to guys in supply closets for herself with absolutely no shame afterward. Claire takes shallow ideals about delicate females seeking approval from males and shatters them through the glass ceiling.
Picture Day is one of the smartest films on youth sexuality that I’ve seen since Juno. Both movies have female leads that are unaffected by slut-shaming, and move away from the boring idea of the “girl next door.” The film accurately captures the key moments before adulthood of being honest with yourself and not being too proud to accept help. The film does a great job depicting real emotions of a teen, and I know this because I left the theater so entirely thankful that I am out of high school.