Never Steady, Never Still (2017) ****

April 17th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Writer: Kathleen Hepburn | Cast: Shirley Henderson, Nicholas Campbell, Theodore Pellerin | Canada. 2017. 110′.

At the heart of this haunting portrait of family dissonance is Shirley Henderson’s dramatic performance as a dignified independent woman brought to her wits’ end by Parkinson’s disease. And if ever there was a location the echoed the mournful storyline it is the alienating lakeside landscapes of snowbound British Columbia, Canada, where this intimate exploration of strained but resilient kindred spirits unfolds in Kathleen Hepburn’s resonant debut, brought to life by DoP Norm Li’s impressive 35mm camerawork.

As films go this is a gruelling and devastating watch despite its worthwhile intentions. Judy (Henderson) is only in her fifties but has been struck down with the debilitating neural affliction and inured to the constant suffering since early in her marriage to  to Ed (Nicholas Campbell). And the pair live in mutual affectionate acceptance of one another despite the restrictions Judy’s illness has posed on their relationship. Not so their 19-year-old son Jamie (Theodore Pellerin) who is a sexually frustrated angry young man, at odds with himself and everyone round him in his male-orientated work in Alberta’s oil business. And in some ways this makes a man of him, although he is clearly troubled and drifting aimlessly through life, occasionally seeing his only friend Danny (Jonathan Whitesell). When he does meet a girl his opening gambit is along the lines of “do you like to fool around?”.

When his parents come under pressure at home, it’s clear that Jamie must knuckle down and offer support. In some ways Jamie’s mental state (never steady, never still) seems to channel his mother’s physical disability but clearly he’s been affected by the restrictions of his upbringing in feeling affection for his mother, but repelled by physical contact with her. So his attempts to engage with women his age are fraught with ambivalent awkwardness. He has brief encounters with a prostitute and local school girl local girl Kaly (Mary Galloway). Hepburn avoids sentimentality or melodrama using instead the quietly moving emotional heft of Judy’s devastating illness and compassion for her son as the dramatic counterpoint to his deeply troubled mental state in this stunning first feature. MT

PREVIEWING AT EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | 15 APRIL 2018 and On general release from FRIDAY 20 APRIL 2018

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