Wilby Wonderful

Starring James Allodi, Paul Gross, Sandra Oh, and Callum Keith Rennie. Rating unavailable.

Ah, small towns, with their white picket fences, slow-paced summer days, church bake sales, and venal real-estate developers exploiting nascent homophobia in an ignorant population.

The exurban life is given a heartfelt send-up in writer-director Daniel MacIvor's Wilby Wonderful, a multicharacter comedy of terrors, with everyone holding his or her secrets barely at bay. The setting is a fictional Maritime speck called Wilby Island (actually Shelburne, Nova Scotia, for the most part), where a scandal is threatening to wipe the smile off the place's gentle demeanour.

It's never quite clear what happened, if anything, but a whisper campaign involves gay people and drugs at Wilby Watch, an untamed nature spot that--by sheer coincidence--the town's bufoonish mayor (Maury Chaykin) and his business cronies would like to see turned into a luxury golf course. The local newspaper, out of a sense of pure civic duty, is planning to publish names of individuals purportedly involved in the shenanigans. This matters in particular to Dan (James Allodi), a sweet-natured, if somewhat morose and married, video-shop owner who sets about looking for a good way to bump himself off.

This, in turn, affects the quiet handyman (Callum Keith Rennie, playing against type) who first stops Dan in his lethal tracks. It should matter more, perhaps, to the town's gruff, seen-it-all sheriff, Buddy French (Paul Gross), currently distracted by the return of island bad girl Sandra (Rebecca Jenkins), now working at the greasy spoon. And this is between attempts to rekindle the relationship with his wife (Sandra Oh), a real-estate agent who has seemingly put a For Sale sign on her soul. Another subplot involves a burgeoning connection between Sandra's daughter (superb youngster Ellen Page) and the dangerous world of boys.

The film suffers slightly in comparisons with Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, with which it shares tonal and titular qualities. But MacIvor, who also has a small role as Buddy's meek deputy, has genuine affection for these characters--especially notable after his chilly debut film, Past Perfect--and he keeps their stories moving forward in fluid and unpredictable ways.

With the exception of Oh, who provides a yuppie cartoon instead of a performance (this may have been what was asked of her), the cast is superb. Gross and Jenkins, in fact, turn in career highs, with their thoughtful and emotionally unfolding work lingering well after the rest of this dark comedy has faded from memory.