Let's get one thing straight before I start the review: Falling Angels will not surprise you. There is not one twist in its plot and not one character ever progresses past his or her broadly painted stereotype. In fact, astute viewers will even be able to predict Falling Angels' ending with great accuracy, even before the opening credits finish rolling.
We've seen Falling Angels countless times before, in weepy Newfoundland folk albums, in Atom Egoyan films and n the books of many reclusive Nova Scotian writers. It is, arguably, the most Canadian thing ever put on celluloid.
Falling Angels centres around the workings of the Fields family, who have all the trappings of late-'60s Canadian middle-class: they own a big car, a big house and they probably own a boat somewhere.
The family is run by its overbearing Cadillac salesman father, Jim (Callum Keith Rennie), who, after returning home from work each night, seems to indulge in throwing violent fits over minor annoyances, both to scare the bejesus out of his three oppressed daughters and to cheaply heighten the dramatic impact of the film.
His angst-ridden daughter Lou (Katherine Isabelle) hates her dad with a passion, and acts out against him with subversive entries in a game of Scrabble ("f-a-c-i-s-t... double word score!"). After all, Jim is infringing on her precious rights to smoke in the bathroom and burn old family photographs.
Meanwhile, perfect princess daughter Sandy (Kristin Adams) aces Home Economics by day and dates an older married man (Mark McKinney) by night.
Frumpy daughter Norma (Monte Gagne), besides spending most of her time avoiding those gross, mean boys at school, has a passion for carpentry and family peacekeeping.
The Fields' mother, Mary (played by a wonderfully understated Miranda Richardson), is perpetually depressed, borderline comatose and a glaringly obvious metaphor for the family's inner turmoil.
When Lou hooks up with an American pro-Che revolutionary she meets in Health class (who, of course, drives around in a Westfalia van and impresses girls by reciting Yeats), all hell breaks loose for the Fields'.
Jim desperately tries to keep his household together by yelling at everybody, while the girls explore the meaning of independence and womanhood, often by trying LSD and creating collages. Everyone in the film is growing up in a different way, but all the characters are so one-sided that it can be hard to identify with anybody--hmm, am I more like the prom queen or the seething, hateful cynic?
The characters may not be complex, but screenwriter Esta Spalding (working from a book by Barbara Gowdy) has made an interesting move in letting her cast of walking cliches present the film to us. Watching them bump and bristle off each other is genuinely fun, although your erudite side may hate you for enjoying the literary burlesque show you're watching.
The film also trots out the familiar Can-Lit standbys of isolation, depression, long-dead children, family secrets, burgeoning lesbianism, incest, dissolving gender roles, disapproving father figures and suicide. And despite eye-rolling moments as each of these things pop up, one can't stop watching.
It's like a glorious greatest hits of lazy writing, packing every single overworked theme or character possible onto the screen at once. It's the dirty work of an unapologetic rip-off artist, one whose crimes would be questionable if they weren't so damned compelling.