The Wild

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The Wild
Review (7/10)
(By Caroline Thibodeaux)

Appearing relatively low on the moviegoing radar, Amnon Buchbinder's "Whole New Thing" is a rather modest indie drama. The film center's around the performance of newcomer Aaron Webber as Emerson, a thirteen-year-old discovering his identity in Nova Scotia. For all of his life, Emerson has been home-schooled by his aging hippie parents Rog (Robert Joy) and Kaya (Rebecca Jenkins) in the woods near Halifax. His home-schooling as well as his relationship with his folks has been rather unorthodox: they often share naked saunas. To his chagrin, Emerson's parents decide it's time for him to attend public schooling and so begins dramatic changes in his life. When we first meet Emerson, he's just experienced his first wet dream and has begun to discover his changing body. His androgynous appearance and pasty skin color make him the target of several bullies at school, but Emerson's home-schooling has helped him develop a winning intellectual demeanor too mature for a thirteen-year-old.

Enter Don (Daniel MacIvor), Emerson's English teacher, who he initially doesn't like. Not surprisingly Don manages to stir the boy's intellect and help him channel his creative energy. But what neither Emerson nor Don expect is for student to develop a crush for teacher. Emerson doesn't have a clue that not only is Don gay, but he seeks his own emotional connection by engaging in unsatisfying sex with strangers in roadside public men's rooms. Emerson is the right kind of student that Don needs to feel fulfillment in his teaching and even though he senses the boy's growing emotional attachment, he has the sense to rebuff his advances.

Though things may seem normal under the surface, there are quite a few problems stirring between Rog and Kaya. They were once bright, non-conformists, but time has driven an emotional wedge between them and a sort of coldness has developed. Rog, who once showed promise with the desire to build fuel cells, has become oblivious to the fact that Kaya has fallen into an affair with local Callum Keith Rennie.

Many of the characters of "Whole New Thing" are not as fully drawn as they could be, making their behavior a tad predictable. Buchbinder has made a small Canadian production with slow pacing that ultimately disintegrates in the last act and many of the performances suffer because of it. As Emerson's parents Joy and Jenkins aren't particularly likable. Joy, who enjoyed some good work as a character actor in the 80's and most recently as the disfigured sharp-shooting sidekick in Romero's "Land of the Dead", deserves a role better than a man with a fallen self-image. MacIvor, having co-wrote the screenplay with Buchbinder has given himself the best adult role of the film. Despite his flaws, Don is a decent guy and there's an interesting sub-plot involving his inability to commit when he accidentally cruises a former partner. The center of the film belongs to young Webber and his impressive performance. His abnormal appearance is almost alien-like to his fellow schoolmates, yet the actor projects an intelligence rarely seen amongst performers his age. The film is ultimately about a young man awkwardly discovering his identity and even though it is never revealed whether or not Aaron is gay, that isn't what his story is about. It's smartly summed up in his response to a schoolmate's inquiry concerning his sexuality when he replies, "Who says you have to choose?"

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