Year of the Carnivore

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      Directed by Sook-Yin Lee. Starring Cristin Milioti. Rated 18A. Opens Friday, June 18.

      What do we know and when do we know it? Those are two of life’s most basic, if rarely asked, questions, and they’re at the centre of Year of the Carnivore, the feature-length debut by Sook-Yin Lee, former Vancouverite and extra-funky star of stage, screen, radio, and music-vid TV.

      Watch the trailer for Year of the Carnivore.

      The movie offers jarring tonal shifts, some flat-footed comedy, and a number of unresolved ideas, but its papier-maché plot is held together by Cristin Milioti, a young Sopranos veteran who plays waifish 20-something Sammy Smalls. The sadly named Sammy’s not the most instantly likable person you’ll ever meet. Her parents (Kevin McDonald and Sheila McCarthy) want her out of the house, pronto, and we can see why. This down-on-herself wise-ass at least has a job, as the security guard at an unnamed Toronto supermarket. (Um, there are IGA signs everywhere.)

      There, she gets to wear elaborate costumes in pursuit of ever-encroaching shoplifters. The fun stuff, however, doesn’t quite jibe with her seemingly affable boss (Will Sasso), who metes out very personal punishment to miscreants in the back room. If the workplace is baffling, even worse is the minefield of dating—which for Sammy so far consists of mooning over the tousled indie rocker who busks by the store.

      His guitar-strumming Eugene may have wandered in from a Michael Cera movie, but Toronto’s sad-eyed Mark Rendall nails the particulars on a guy who’s just cool enough to take advantage of the good fortune being thrown his way, and not hip enough to say no—except to her. (Oddly, Rendall played almost the same role in the little-seen Victoria Day.) When Sammy decides to be more sexually competitive, her crash course is shockingly direct, especially when she gets all autodidactic while babies are in the room.

      The movie and the main character are something like the writer-director: irreverent, vaguely androgynous, meandering, and maddeningly, if often endearingly, naive. Lee tells surrealistic bedtime stories for folk who may have picked up some style but still aren’t quite sure how they got here.