This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Amy Stewart.
New Waterford Girl (1998)
Written by Tricia Fish
Directed by Allan Moyle
As someone who spent ages 10-18 in a small rural area, I have found that places like this can feel incredibly stifling. Much like the characters in this story, their religion (Catholicism in their case, American Nationalist theology for mine) casts a shadow over their lives but not in a way that strictly shapes their behavior. Instead, they create loopholes for inevitable downfalls of human morality. For example, if you get a girl pregnant, you just marry her, and then all is forgiven, or you go off for a few months to a convent where the baby is taken, and then you come home, and no one ever talks about it again. There’s not much to look forward to in this place, leading to a rather bleak outlook on life, a desire to escape.
Mooney Pottie (Liane Balaban) is a 15-year-old girl living in the Nova Scotian town of New Waterford. She’s a brilliant kid mentored by her depressive and possibly alcoholic teacher Cecil (Andrew McCarthy). He manages to get Mooney a scholarship to a prestigious school in New York City, but her parents are simply not comfortable with Mooney moving so far away. She becomes good friends with a family that moves in next door that just happens to be from New York, especially their daughter Lou who does not see life through the same lens as everyone else in New Waterford. Mooney concocts a plan to feign being promiscuous so that her parents will send her off to the convent where she can escape and go to NYC. Meanwhile, Lou begins making money on the side by punching out the ex-lovers of disgruntled single mothers in New Waterford. It takes on a religious tinge as the men she strikes fall to the ground if they lie but remain standing if they are honest.
Minutes into the movie, Ariana made an excellent observation that the style was incredibly reminiscent of Nickelodeon’s Pete & Pete with a higher level of maturity in the story. I think that is one of the best comparisons you could make. There’s a specific tone & logic to the world of New Waterford Girl that hints we’re in a place where what we assume isn’t always true. You have Lou and her holy punches, as well as a whole cast of eccentric side characters who get perfectly presented in just a few scenes. The setting is shown as mundane while the characters are anything but. If you had grown up watching Pete & Pete as an adolescent, this would have made an excellent transition into more adult-themed movies.
While coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, and there are undoubtedly many universal themes running through New Waterford Girl, director Allan Moyle brings a freshness to the screen by focusing on local color. I’m someone who has never been to any place in Canada beyond just over the border in Michigan, so I enjoyed getting to see what some parts of Nova Scotia are like. Skies are overcast, and it’s clear there’s always a sharp wind blowing off the waters, which helped provide for the town in its early days and continues to do so. The ever-looming presence of the Catholic Church also colors in the details at the edges.
This isn’t a film with any traditional villains; philandering and irresponsible young men come close to playing that role. However, some sticky sexual politics are happening, mainly in the relationship between Mooney and Cecil, her teacher. He admits near the end of the second act to being in love with this 15-year-old girl. Later, in a bid to trick her father so she can still escape to New York, Cecil passionately kisses the girl on the mouth. The film doesn’t seem to take this as a big deal, but I have to say that it made me incredibly uncomfortable as a male teacher. There’s a gross stereotype and suspicion around men in teaching, and overly romanticized narratives like this certainly don’t help. But that’s one flaw against a pretty solid win of a movie.
I loved the subversion of the “bad reputation” trope with Mooney actively wanting to be labeled a slut, so her chances of being shipped off increase. She’s not comfortable actually engaging in sex, so instead, she insinuates and implies, even using a pregnant women’s urine to fake a positive test. The story is played for both laughs and genuine pathos when Mooney sees her plan’s effect on her family. There’s undoubtedly sentiment in the third act, but the movie earns rather than assumes it has. Mooney is such a well-drawn character, living in the 1970s but feeling very much like the angst of the 1990s teenager. New Waterford Girl depends on a sense of nostalgia but doesn’t try to cheat