Trigger, the newest film from Canadian director Bruce McDonald (Pontypool), is a quiet, contemplative little film that ended up being one of the most intelligent, interesting ones that I saw at the 2011 International Film Festival Boston. A heavy, intense film comprised almost entirely of dialogue between two actors, it walks a careful line between self-indulgent and self-aware, between pretentious and intricate complexity. Fortunately, even when it’s being pretentious, it works. It’s a thoroughly satisfying film.
Two women — Kat (Molly Parker) and Vic (Tracy Wright) — are former members of the fictional alt-rock band Trigger, a band whose star shone hot and bright and fast years ago, but whose members have scattered down very different paths since then. After a short rock and roll life replete with addiction and arguments, the two women turned away from both their band and each other. Kat has settled into a thriving life writing and marketing jingles and theme songs, living in Los Angeles and steadily climbing upward and onward. Meanwhile, Vic is bitter and jaded and living a quiet life in reluctant seclusion, reclusive and adrift. The two reconnect for one night, beginning at a restaurant in Toronto and moving on to a “Women In rock” tribute and beyond.
The setup for the film is as simple as that preceding paragraph, but what happens in those selected hours is a painful exploration of their loves and losses, of bitter scabs being peeled back, full of tearful accusations and admissions. It’s one of the rare films that is utterly dependent on its two stars — barely any other character has more than a couple of lines of dialogue, and so the dense history of Vic and Kat, the paths they’ve chosen and their eventual jagged, often heartbreaking reunion forces their shoulders to carry a staggeringly heavy burden. Fortunately, both actresses are more than capable, and the film never stumbles throughout their evening. We learn about their lives together and their life apart, about how their respective drug and alcohol addictions almost destroyed them and still threaten them.
Those performances are what makes the film thrive, as the story itself is a rather familiar one. Writer Daniel MacIvor’s dialogue triumph’s over the story’s occasional cliches and stumbles, and McDonald’s unflinching direction ties it all together. Parker has always been a favorite of mine, from her lesser known works like Kissed to her stellar turn on HBO’s “Deadwood,” and here she’s marvelous. Kat is a well-to-do, put-together wannabe power player who in actuality has no idea what to do with her life, where to take it and how to reconcile who she is with who she was. With that said, Tracy Wright is truly amazing as Vic — a glowering, misanthropic recluse who feels that her best days are behind her, and can’t decide whether to make a tentative attempt to reclaim her glory, or to simply go quietly into her twilight. Vic has no patience for Kat’s upscale trappings, snapping testily at the slightest boast or indication of her new life’s success, and Kat grows wearily frustrated with Vic’s continuous judging. The film is made all the more tragic by the fact that Wright succumbed to a battle with pancreatic cancer last year, making this her final film.
What’s most remarkable is that MacIvor’s dialogue is at times rather painful, and not just due to its emotional resonance (though there is much of that). Often it takes on almost poetical undertones, with characters waxing lengthily on their pasts, presents and futures, and frequently it teeters precipitously on the edge of jaw-clenching pretentiousness. Yet the characters put forward the role of the weary artists so purely and effectively that their ragged, tired voices somehow find purchase, and the lines flow smoothly and just sound right. If those same lines were delivered by rosy-cheeked disaffected 20-somethings, I would have rolled my eyes and mentally checked out 15 minutes in. However, in Parker and Wright’s hands, it feels simply like the soulful soliloquies of two auteurs who’ve drifted past their brightest years. It’s bolstered by McDonald’s interesting and determined direction, wherein he makes the camera give each actress its full attention during each monolgue. There are several long, steady, unedited shots of their faces as they give powerful and tearful admissions that force the audience to witness every emotion as they open themselves to the camera.
Trigger is one of those films that lives or dies on the strength of its players. It’s thematically reminiscent of Frost/Nixon in that it relies wholly on the interplay between the two people. Yet here the two leads are even more critical, as there’s little in the way of external characters, and the story is tightly focused on a few critical hours. They’re responsible for telling a pair of fascinating life stories in a short period of time, and they carry it almost perfectly.
Trigger screened that the Independent Film Festival of Boston.