Locarno 2022 Review: BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND Embraces Tired Tropes, Then Reenergizes Them
From Canada comes director Trevor Anderson's coming-of-age comedy, starring Vaughan Murrae.
There is no shortage of coming-of-age dramas on the international festival circuit. The 75th edition of the Locarno Film Festival was no different.
Coming-of-age stories took on many forms, but the majority focused on female protagonists. A Canadian film directed by Trevor Anderson, Before I Change My Mind, has been an outlier.
Together with co-writer Fish Griwkowsky, Anderson rides the retro wave. In spite of this, Anderson revealed that the inspiration for his feature-length debut came from his own experiences growing up. Before I Change My Mind takes place in 1987 at a Canadian high school where American transplant Robin begins a new chapter.
The genderqueer kid Robin, played by non-binary teen actor Vaughan Murrae, perplexes their new schoolmates. After a few hard brushes with cool kids, Robin eventually begins to blend in with the crew.
Griwkowsky and Anderson embrace all the classic coming-of-age and misfit tropes. Crushes, heartache, bullies, unlikely alliances, boy-meet-girl, broken friendships, hapless parents -- the whole she-bang wrapped in technicolor nostalgia. Although Before I Change My Mind follows all the coming-of-age conventions, the film does not feel repetitive or derivative.
To begin with, the semi-originality of the worn-out genre is reenergized by avoiding the heteronormative (dis)course ingrained in coming-of-age narratives. Robin is not the only character who does not fit into the conventional heterosexual bracket. Carter (Dominic Lippa) would be the obvious pick for the bully of the class, but Anderson wittily plays around this norm, with the character showing strong signs of bicuriosity.
In the case of Carter, the fluid approach to sexuality is hidden behind behavior soaked in toxic masculinity, which is more of a learned social reflex than an organic feature of his personality. As another curious extension of the high-school relationship story, Carter attempts to perform heteronormativity in order to fit in with majority society.
The bullies in Anderson's world are girls who are empowered by the routinely masculine trait of violence. As a result of all these twists and turns, gender and sexuality are not the only aspects that reinvigorate the cliché-ridden inventory of the genre. Anderson addresses inherent racism with the character of Tony (Jhztyn Contado), who is on the receiving end of bullying.
The conventional genre norms would have Tony earning respect and getting the girl as a sidekick by the end of the film. Instead, Griwkowsky and Anderson hint at the potential sidekick without exploiting it. And Tony becomes the movie's nihilistic badass in an unexpected yet bizarrely empowering rebirth.
Before I Change My Mind keeps in the picture the miseries and passions of parents. Contrary to popular belief, they don't have their own lives figured out. It's something that is shared across generations.
Anderson manages to walk the tightrope between familiarity and retooling of the retro coming-of-age template. The generational shift of the filmmakers tackling the genre brings new topics in. The protagonist of the film suffers from undisclosed trauma related to her mother, which occasionally triggers panic and anxiety attacks.
It may seem like just a storytelling device to introduce a puzzling trauma in order to extend empathy beyond the protagonist. Several young generations of filmmakers have incorporated mental health issues into their narratives, some more prominently than others.
This is also true in Anderson's case, since Robin's anxiety attacks serve as a representation of a bigger issue that is being de-tabooed, even in a coming-of-age comedy. A new generation of filmmakers is doing this systematically across genres.
The important thing is that Anderson, along with other filmmakers, does not push any progressive agenda or so-called wokeism. The expansion of narrative beyond the very tight margins of cisgender white heteronormativism has been long overdue, and Before I Change My Mind acknowledges what has always existed in society without adequate representation.
Along with offering a variety of perspectives on growing up, Anderson doesn't shy away from humor, and not just at the expense of others. The director himself plays a supporting role of flamboyant musical teacher, Mr. Anderson. When his unlicensed take on Jesus Christ Superstar gets ceased and desisted, he pulls out his own knockoff musical, Mary Magdalene Video Star, with gusto and all the 80s glitz.
Before I Change My Mind is a Breakfast Club and Freaks & Geeks for the Gen Y with the vibe of Stranger Things retropop.
Before I Change My Mind
- Trevor Anderson
- Trevor Anderson
- Fish Griwkowsky
- Vaughan Murrae
- Dominic Lippa
- Lacey Oake