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Bang Bang Baby | 2014 TIFF Review

Campy Histrionics at Their Most Mediocre

Jeffrey St. Jules Bang Bang Baby PosterCanadian director Jeffrey St. Jules has demonstrated an aptitude for experimenting with the cinematic form and creating hyper-realized, wildly stylized environments in his short film work. With his feature film debut, Bang Bang Baby, he’s created a similarly idiosyncratic, insulated world that ultimately succumbs to an inability to account for the demands of a longer, more involved and complex narrative.

The story, which blends the faux-aspirational insincerity of the American Dreams/American Idol ethos and the fever-dream sensibilities of Mulholland Drive, is an amalgam of all things pertaining to the 1960s. Stepphy (Jane Levy), a whimsical, idealistic high school student with a penchant for crooning, looks to an American televised singing competition as her mode of escape from small town Canadian life. This standard-issue, coming-of-age template reaches its obvious state of conflict early when teen heartthrob Bobby Shore (Justin Chatwin) randomly shows up in town, crashing at her place when his car breaks down.

As expected, Bobby is a bit of a flake. But rather than examine how Stepphy comes to this realization and what that might mean within the context of modern reflection, Bang Bang Baby focuses on protracted musical numbers and the inherent zaniness of base observational humour about German accents, celebrity phoniness and the juxtaposition of rich city people with drunken small town commoners. Moreover, St. Jules, needing to remind us that the early ‘60s was more than just consumer motivation, musicals and teen fantasies, injects a storyline about a chemical plant leak giving the locals character-specific—morally-conscious—mutations.

None of this would be a problem except that the comedy is never funny, the musical numbers are quite flat and the science fiction never presents as more than a superficial problem. Somewhere within the campy, self-conscious presentation is a wry, satirical jab at the socio-political, highly moralistic and hypocritical, sensibilities of the ‘60s—noting that all of these styles and genres lead back to the same heteronormative, Judeo-Christian preaching—but it’s secondary to the indulgent flourishes that grow increasingly irrelevant as the plot plunders forward.

What’s particularly problematic is the presentation of gender and the faux-feminism that rears its head in the third act. Inevitably, the basic narrative machinations of Bang Bang Baby teaches Stepphy, and the audience, a lesson about the seedy, insincere nature of Hollywood dreams, but it also delves into a bit of forced didactic about the role of women in relation to childbearing. Without spoiling anything, there’s a vague implication that women can potentially achieve their dreams if they just accept their lot in life and embrace their maternal instinct, which, considering the deliberately surreal, hyper-critical template of everything preceding, is a tad inverted.

This unfocused, wildly inconsistent dynamic is an issue that often plagues superficial, deliberately quirky films with a limited agenda. If there’s no real substance, no bigger picture thinking, then we’re left only with the central conceit, which is little more than the usual Canadian small town dysphoria with an ostensibly John Paizs sensibility.

Reviewed on September 8th at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival – Discovery Programme. 85 Minutes


Robert Bell is a Toronto-based film critic for and Exclaim! Magazine, where he was also the editor for film festivals and books. Robert covers North American Film Festivals such as Sundance, Hot Docs, Tribeca and TIFF. Robert studied film theory and screenwriting at York University and has a background in independent film production. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Campion (The Piano), Kiarostami (Certified Copy), von Trotta (Hannah Arendt), Marsh (The Theory of Everything), Haneke (The White Ribbon), von Trier (Antichrist), Seidl (Dog Days), Moodysson (Lilya 4-Ever), Ramsay (Ratcatcher). Winterbottom (The Claim), Malick (The Tree of Life), Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia), Cronenberg (Dead Ringers), Verhoeven (Starship Troopers), Bigelow (Point Break), Jordan (The Crying Game), The Dardennes (Lorna's Silence), Zyvagintsev (The Return), Porumboiu (Police, Adjective), Ozon (Dans la Maison).


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