Since it’s music month here at TFS, we thought we’d turn to a film by a Director who’s proven especially apt at infusing his films with music. Bruce McDonald’s 2009 film Trigger centres on Kat (Molly Parker) and Vic (Tracy Wright in her theatrical swan song before succumbing to pancreatic cancer in 2010), ex-bandmates who are reuniting for a tribute show years after they broke up very publicly amidst issues with drugs, sex and general self-loathing. The two are a study in opposites: Vic is low-key where Kat is high-strung. Vic wants to stay under the radar while Kat craves attention. They also haven’t quite resolved all of the problems that caused the rift. The two spend the night walking around Toronto, rehashing the past and perhaps working towards a better future — with or without one another.
Danita: Well, first of all, I liked it WAY more than I thought I would. I actually really enjoyed it. It’s like Canada’s answer to Before Sunrise . It has a really similar vibe, with all of the deep talks and wandering around. It also doesn’t necessarily look like a Canadian film.. it is missing that low production value that I am so used to seeing. I appreciated that. I was like “This is a movie from Canada, and it looks good, and it’s interesting, and GO CANADA!” On that same note though – it is set in winter and it is clearly freezing as they are walking around. What says Canada like freezing temperatures? And it features a lot of Toronto, that isn’t trying to hide that it’s Toronto. I think I saw Queen and Bathurst in there, and of course, Canoe at the beginning.
Kristal: Yes, movies that are unapologetically Toronto-centric definitely add points in the “like it” column for me. Even movies I might otherwise have felt ambivalent about (Egoyan’s Chloe being a prime example) get bumped up in my estimation because they capture a part of the city that I recognize and relate to. Bruce McDonald is especially great at this – This Movie Is Broken had the same west end Toronto vibe that instantly made me relate to the characters because they could be my neighbours. (Bruce McDonald incidentally, does live in my neighbourhood so they could literally be based on my neighbours)
The other thing that I love about this movie is that it deals with something that doesn’t often get real thoughtful examination in film – female friendship. Vic and Kat’s relationship is every bit as complicated as a romantic relationship and perhaps even more so because it’s harder to define and label the intricacies of friendship and the weird intimacies that go along with it.
Danita: Yeah, exactly. I was thinking the whole time that it does a really great job of examining a friendship with really deep bonds, and really deep wounds at the same time. That back and forth of emotion is entirely accurate. There’s no sane reason to be so tied to one person, but that is a feeling we can all relate to.
There was also some good use of Canadian music – like near the end, Basia Bulat’s Little Waltz begins playing. I love her, I love that song so that won me over big time.
Kristal: I remember reading somewhere that the script was originally written for two men–I think it was Hugh Dillon and Callum Keith Rennie–but was re-written for women after scheduling issues kept them from moving forward on that project. That has me thinking – would it have been as intimate and revealing feeling if it had been men? I think female characters have that innate ability to be softer and kind of, have permission to admit to being so emotionally bonded to another person in a platonic manner. Male characters in movies tend to show that connection through more hijinks-related situations. Would an audience buy two dudes wandering around Toronto all night talking about their friendship?
Danita: No, I can’t imagine two men walking around all night talking about their friendship. I was reading up on the film, and I didn’t realize that Tracy Wright died soon after this was finished, and they actually sped up the production process so that the film could be made despite her cancer diagnosis. So that gave Trigger even more poignancy, especially when it came to some of her monologues. I was so sad to read about the whole thing.
Kristal: That’s definitely another factor that adds to the melancholy tone of the film. Tracy Wright was so loved in the Toronto film community that it’s bittersweet to sit through such a wonderful film knowing its the last time we’ll see her in a movie. It would actually be interesting to watch this movie from the viewpoint of someone who’s not so tied to the setting or the actors to see how it plays. I think the writing is strong enough that it would still be considered a great exploration of a female friendship, but does actually being from Toronto make it more poignant for the viewer?
Danita: I think so, for sure. As you said, just by recognizing some of the places, one already feels more connected to the characters. That being said, I don’t necessarily feel disconnected to characters that live elsewhere. So I think that having that spatial relationship with the characters in Trigger is a nice added bonus, but it isn’t imperative to enjoying this film, which definitely has its own merits apart from being obviously set in Toronto.
Kristal: I think the film’s real strength, aside from the performances, comes from having Daniel MacIvor as the film’s screenwriter. His roots are in theatre and the film definitely has a stage-like quality to it. The dialogue really runs the gamut from snappy banter to confessional monologue which is challenging for the viewer who’s maybe used to more film-ick type speech patterns in movies. It’s also sort of fitting that the film feels like it could play out on a stage since in the movie’s reality, Vic and Kat’s relationship is so tied to the connection they feel when they actually are on stage together playing music.
Danita: I agree. The writing is stellar. The dialogue never feels forced or pretentious. I also really like the title of the film. I know that Trigger is the name of the band, but there is a lot more meaning behind that word for Vic and Kat – both being recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. And also, being with each other seems to trigger different emotions for them both.
Kristal: That’s a great point. The whole film hinges on the fact that they each want to try and re-capture a time in their lives that they believe was ideal or pure and was sullied by the other’s various issues. The dialogue they have over the course of the night forces them to rehash all of the wrongs that they’ve done to one another and determine whether they can move past the bad and have a relationship or whether they have to accept that being around one another is just bad for them. The fact that they’re also musicians whose messy relationship has been in the spotlight gives it a bit more urgency and a cool “behind-the-music” vibe that I think Bruce McDonald excels at.
Danita: Such a cool “behind-the-music” vibe, although I sort of had a hard time believing there were ever in a band together. That was my one issue with the film.
Kristal: I bought Tracy more than I bought Molly but eh…I was okay with it. Also – I LOVED the Sarah Polley cameo. Hilarious!
Is Trigger Essential Canadian Cinema?
Kristal: Definitely. It’s incredibly well-written, focuses on subject matter that’s lacking in film and has the final stellar performance from a well-loved Canadian personality. The fact that it’s such an accurate depiction of west end Toronto is just icing on the cake.
Danita: I wholeheartedly agree. Trigger is a film that Canadians can be proud to call Canadian. It is a simple story that packs a huge punch. It looks cool and has great music. This is a movie that will be a go-to recommendation from now on.
The Final Verdict
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