Published Sep 05, 2014Jack Black, Walter Matthau, Billy Bob Thornton and Cameron Diaz are just a few actors who have, in recent years, played broken characters comically situated in the position of being unlikely role models for children. Films like Bad News Bears, School of Rock and Bad Teacher mismatch childish adults who have lost their ambition with wide-eyed kids who have their lives ahead of them. Torontonian writer, director and star Pat Mills treads similar ground with his first feature-length film, Guidance, which plays in TIFF's Discoveries program.
In Guidance, Mills plays David Gold, a former child star of the fictitiously beloved kids show Wacky Street. These days, Gold is a shameless alcoholic who can't hold down voice work for self-help tapes, let alone land legitimate acting roles. He's also a deeply closeted homosexual who describes his effeminate voice as "gentle" and reads Drew Barrymore's pre-teen autobiography, Little Girl Lost, without a hint of irony or self-awareness.
Completely helpless himself, when threatened with eviction, Gold resolves that his purpose is to help others and quite easily lands himself a position as a high school guidance counsellor. Since he's wallowing in rock bottom self destructiveness, he's able to find a sweet spot in between caring too much and not giving a crap that enables him to actually reach teenagers and change lives.
In a lesser film, these plot points would inevitably lead to a third act reckoning in which Gold is discovered as a fraud, but is shortly after redeemed by his impact on the student body. But though Guidance explores familiar territory, the screenplay is a gutsy work of originality that plays with audience expectation and ends up delivering a surprising and admirably untraditional story.
Guidance is by no means a perfect film, but with the output of quality laughs, clear direction and charismatic performances, Mill's first effort is an impressive feat that would be a struggle to pull off by more seasoned filmmakers. In his directorial infancy, Mills is already a confident storyteller and a triple threat to keep an eye on.
(Search Engine Films)