Mount Pleasant

Starring Benjamin Ratner, Shawn Doyle, Katie Boland, and Kelly Rowan. Rating unavailable.

Local writer-director Ross Weber thoughtfully takes on a number of tough subjects—including marital breakdown, prostitution, drug addiction, and urban development—in this confidently handled character study of three couples on a messy collision course in a downmarket Vancouver neighbourhood.

The distinctively shot film initially focuses on one struggling couple, Doug and Sarah (Benjamin Ratner and Camille Sullivan), who eventually cross paths with troubled yuppies Stephen and Anne (Shawn Doyle and Kelly Rowan, both terrific). What connects them is Nadia and Nick (Katie Boland and Tygh Runyan), a teen hooker and her junkie boyfriend, also dwelling in the marginal Mount Pleasant area. The trouble gets under way when the first couple’s young daughter gets poked by a needle left in the yard by some junkie. Doug then spots slick real-estate agent Stephen canoodling with Nadia in his driveway and ends up posting a letter to the man’s wife, who is already in denial.

The wealthier couple’s communication problems weigh heavily on their daughter, Megan (Genevieve Buechner), a 13-year-old retreating into goth cynicism. Intriguingly, Doyle and Buechner get many of the tale’s most touching scenes, with dad and daughter’s relationship too complex to allow simple moralizing. Just a tad more fleshing-out would have helped viewers understand the rage fuelling Ratner’s tightly wound character, though, and the self-destructive obsessions of Runyan’s character, who keeps stealing power tools in the neighbourhood, with dire consequences. But, on the whole, the decision to understate the material works to the movie’s advantage.

The film’s cool look, courtesy of veteran lensman A. Jonathan Benny, helps sustain a sober tone, which resists shading over into melodrama. Although Pleasant isn’t without dark humour, thanks to Weber’s steady hand in this assured follow-up to his wholly improvised No More Monkeys Jumpin’ on the Bed. His script leaves questions open, but the actors provide some answers and offer enough variety to relieve the mounting, and sometimes unpleasant, tension.

Among a talented ensemble cast, Buechner is the standout, with a quick coda giving the tale a well-earned, quietly upbeat finish.