June 25, 2010

Review: 'This Movie is Broken' Social Scene

This Movie is Broken manages to dodge and sidestep the perils of becoming a self-indulgent visual and musical showcase for the massive Toronto band and music project that is Broken Social Scene. It does so quite sublimely and artfully, creating a fully cinematic experience.

Essentially a concert film wrapped around a loose narrative, This Movie is Broken intercuts between some stellar concert footage and a conventional, scripted love story. This Movie is Broken serves as a cinematic expression for the musical collaboration that serves as the band's vision.

The film opens uproariously with a furious performance of my favourite Broken Social Scene song, the abrasively pleasant, "Almost Crimes". We are then introduced to a set of characters that bridge the narrative structure of the film as concert footage from the band's free outdoor show last year at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto interplays between a conventional romance until the two separate stories merge when the characters we follow show up at the aforementioned concert.

Bruno (Greg Calderone) is the sort of the protagonist who, at the open of the film, wakes up blissfully having spent the previous night with his longtime crush, Caroline Rush (Georgina Reilly). (He goes on to repeat the name a lot.) Caroline (aka Hammerhead) is off to Paris to study and the two spend their last night together attending a free Broken Social Scene show amidst the beautiful landscape of Toronto and its city-wide garbage strike.

There is a lot musical talent on stage as twenty of Broken Social Scene's various members from many other Canadian bands (like Emily Haines of Metric, Amy Millan of Stars, Feist, etc.) perform their great catalogue of hit songs. Behind the camera, the film is also well stocked with veteran rock and roll director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) and a script written by award-winning actor/filmmaker Don McKellar (Childstar). So much creativity and liveliness bleeds in front of and behind the camera making the film an enjoyable endeavour on multiple levels. The great music acts as a wonderful centerpiece transitioning in and out of the minimalist "instrumental" love story.

Filmed in a documentary style and shot entirely within a 24-hour time span using multiple cameras and some hand held shots, the cinematography is beautiful, capturing the raw feel and nature of the city and its music. The simple story wears thin at certain points as some of the dialogue comes off clunky and stiff on delivery, particularly Bruno's voice overs which sometimes left a lot to be desired. One choice, groan-worthy line was, "We had sex. That's cool." But the real stars of the film are the music of Broken Social Scene and the City of Toronto as scenic shots of the city's landscape add to the cinematic weight of the picture serving as much more than an extended music video.

Near the end of the 90 minute film, a certain character dynamic takes a strange twist out of the blue that breaks out of the minimalist narrative of the film, taking it outside the sustained romantic concert film context. Momentarily, the audience is ripped outside the prior experience, left wondering what part of the story was missed or cut from the final film and what exactly will happen next to the crux of the conventional love story. That issue is not really addressed and the actual ending is sweet and fitting, but I still wonder what the aim of that shakeup was. It was handled far too casually.

This Movie is Broken captures the spirit and art of the musical experience that defines Broken Social Scene as a band, blending the film into a smooth, seamless hybrid of music and romantic cinema. McDonald, McKellar, and the band craft a visually and musically interesting, intriguing, pleasing movie, mixing sensibilities and art forms delightfully. Anyone who enjoys the music of Broken Social Scene should see this film and how it serves as an extension of the band's collective musical collaboration.
"A collection of various voices, styles and overall aesthetics, Broken Social Scene is one of those bands that could work as a concept, but ultimately fail as an experience. Yet [...] it continues to evolve and conquer — absorbing talent and vision."
Katherine Monk

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