D: Sara St. Onge / 90m
Cast: Lola Tash, Charlie Carrick, Krista Bridges, Rob Stewart, Richard Clarkin, Brooke Palsson, A.K. Shand, Nicholas Bode
Sixteen year old Molly Maxwell (the wonderfully named Tash) is a pupil at Phoenix Progressive School, where creative self-expression is encouraged amongst the pupils and where being ordinary (or settling for it) is not only discouraged, but viewed as abnormal. Molly has a genius IQ but doesn’t want to be singled out or regarded as special. When the head teacher, Raymond (Clarkin), pushes Molly to choose her ‘elect’ subject, she finds herself being guided towards photography by her handsome English teacher, Ben Carter (Carrick). Surprised by his interest in her, Molly insists that Ben be her supervisor on the ‘elect’ subject. Ben is initially hesitant but eventually agrees. As they work ever more closely together, Molly and Ben become increasingly intimate (though Ben resists the temptation to make it a physical relationship).
As the relationship develops, Molly finds herself lying to her friends Caitlin (Palsson) and Gala (Shand), and her parents, Marilyn (Bridges) and Evan (Stewart). She invents a boyfriend called Spencer who goes to another school to explain the time she spends with Ben, including a field trip that wouldn’t have been sanctioned by the school. Molly’s attitude becomes more confrontational, while her behaviour around Ben when they’re in school begins to attract the attention of Raymond. Things come to a head when the photos she took on the unofficial field trip are discovered at the school, and the seriousness of the situation – and its potential consequences – is brought to light.
There’s a moment in Molly Maxwell where Molly is outside Ben’s apartment. She has a gift for him, a framed photograph she knows he’ll like. In turn he has something for her, some books on photography. Molly flicks through one of them and shows no sign of moving from Ben’s doorstep. It’s an awkward moment, both for the characters and the audience, but it’s indicative of the problems the movie has in trying to approach its subject matter: forbidden love between a student and her teacher. Molly Maxwell is an indie movie through and through, with an indie movie’s sensibility, and it wants to be different in the way that all indie movies want to be different: it wants to be “about something”. (This might seem like an obvious thing to point out, but there are plenty of indie movies out there that strive to be different but come off as aloof or detached, with characters that operate in an emotional vacuum, apart from anything even remotely resembling reality.)
The “something” Molly Maxwell wants to be about is ostensibly growing pains, but there’s a deeper message hidden in the movie, and it’s not until Molly and Ben’s relationship is outed that it becomes clear. Arising from the ashes of the relationship’s predictable demise is the reaffirmation of Molly’s relationship with her mother, a once solid connection that seems irreparably damaged by Molly’s love for Ben and the strain it places on the family structure. Marilyn is a wonderfully complex creation, outwardly controlling in an overbearing, condescending way that most children would find hard to deal with anyway. But Molly rebels against her mother when she receives real support from Ben, and as she becomes more and more infatuated with her teacher, so her disillusionment with her mother increases. Marilyn clearly wants the best for Molly but has a tough time showing it appropriately. In their efforts to be understood, both Molly and Marilyn end up pushing each other away.
It’s this secondary storyline – and its resolution – that ultimately has the most impact, and while Molly’s burgeoning love affair with Ben takes up most of the screen time, it’s predictable nature isn’t as appealing in the long run. Molly’s naiveté gets in the way of making her attraction for Ben believable, while Ben’s motivation for pursuing the romance is murky at best, leaving the audience to wonder what exactly has brought them together. That said, Tash and Carrick deliver good performances despite the flaws in first-time director St. Onge’s script, and there is a definite chemistry between them that bolsters their scenes together. Tash is a good casting choice as Molly, and has a maturity that adds immeasurably to her reading of the character, while her scenes with Bridges are exhilarating for the depth that each actress brings.
Further on the plus side, St. Onge shows a keen eye for the absurdities of such a privileged milieu, while there’s a terrific indie soundtrack (keep an ear out for the perfect placement of Audrey & The Agents’ Hate Fuck). For a first feature it’s a decent enough attempt, and if some of the drama veers perilously close to highlighting its soap opera similarities, then St. Onge’s lack of experience can be excused thanks to the movie’s overall quality.
Rating: 7/10 – an absorbing (though emotionally redundant in places) debut feature that features good performances in support of a not quite fully realised script; at times charming, Molly Maxwell works best when looking at the small tragedies that can beset a mother/daughter relationship.