It’s the summer of 1976, and in small-town Nova Scotia Kit (Dylan Authors) is looking to run away from home with his girlfriend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) in order to reunite with his estranged mother Laurie (Molly Parker). The pair are led, in a fashion, by Andy Warhol (Rhys Bevan-John), an idol of Kit’s who occasionally manifests as his self-appointed spirit guide. At first Kit struggles to articulate his reasons for leaving, though it’s clear that it has something to do with his father Dave (Allan Hawco). However with time and distance he begins to understand his heart’s true desire, and unlike Alice it isn’t to finally consummate their relationship.
Shot in black and white, Weirdos is already pretty unusual even before it introduces an imaginary Andy Warhol — or Not Andy Warhol, as he is later credited after suggesting that he might actually be just a guy in a wig. Although Bruce McDonald provides his audience with a specific time and date he takes a decidedly more understated approach to contextualising his story than many of his contemporaries, so lacking is Weirdos in the usual proliferation of period details and other such signifiers.
The film’s Canadian setting, for example, is established in relation to foreign iconography — whether it’s the United States bicentennial or the musical influence of Elton John — as much as it is through Canadian imagery, to the point that when Kit first sets out for Sydney you may well wonder how he’s planning to hitchhike to Australia.
While the title might reference the collective weirdness of the Canadian character in general it mostly applies to the film’s main characters in particular. Kit is still coming to terms with his sexuality; he’s aware that he’s different, with his unconventional dress sense and affinity for certain queer icons, but isn’t self-aware enough to actually come out to himself, let alone his friends and family — Not Andy Warhol here taking on a role similar to Buffy the hamster from last year’s Closet Monster. His mother, meanwhile, is struggling with mental illness, and while the film doesn’t venture a diagnosis there’s evidence of manic-depression and delusional thinking in her actions — she too has an imagined connection to Warhol. Sometimes, she tells Kit, you just have to go away for a while, whether on a road trip or to rehab, to come to terms with yourself.
As quirky as it might sound, Weirdos is never conceited, instead evoking considerable sympathy for its ensemble of unusually well-rounded characters. This is particularly impressive given the semi-autobiographical nature of Daniel MacIvor’s screenplay. If anything, Authors is probably the weakest link, but that’s only because the rest of the cast make such disproportionate impressions: Parker is the clear standout, bursting onto the screen at the film’s half-way point both fully formed and utterly informal, as if she’d been there dancing in the garden all along. Stone approaches the role of Alice with such confidence and charisma that she threatens to commandeer the narrative, second-guessing many of Kit’s self-discoveries and often driving the story forward on his behalf; while Hawko’s Dave patiently but pointedly waits for an opportunity to explain himself, in what unexpectedly proves to be the film’s big emotional climax.
Despite its grey-scale aesthetic and wry sense of humour there is something unmistakably warm and affectionate about Weirdos. At its heart, this is a film about perspective, memory and identity, so perhaps it is appropriate that is should also seem so nostalgic. Not that you have to share any particular set of experiences to appreciate it, however, as the expansive and inclusive selection of honorary weirdos credited at film’s end makes clear. Indeed, the more different you are, the better.