Thursday, July 18, 2024

“DARKEST MIRIAM”

THE STORY – Miriam is a librarian working in an out of the way branch of the Toronto Public Library. Working among the marginalized eccentrics and cranks that frequent her branch, she is trudging through her life shrouded in a fog of grief. To add weirdness to sadness, she keeps finding vaguely threatening letters throughout the library that seem to be addressed to her and the world at large, but mostly to her. While puzzling over this mystery, Miriam meets Janko, a younger foreign cab driver. When they start a love affair Miriam starts to feel her fog lift. But the question remains: what is the deal with those letters?

THE CAST – Britt Lower, Tom Mercier, Sook-Yin Lee & Jean Yoon

THE TEAM – Naomi Jaye (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 87 Minutes


Miriam (Britt Lower) has been struggling. Her life has become the worst kind of routine: the small number of regular patrons at the library branch where she works have been working her last nerve, forcing her to fill out incident reports for “incidents” that can’t be solved, and she keeps finding vaguely threatening notes hidden around the library insinuating that someone being overly protective of her may be on the verge of taking things too far. One day, she forces herself to speak with a cute guy who regularly lunches in the same park that she does. Janko (Tom Mercier), a cab driver of foreign birth, is also going through some emotional issues, and the two quickly fall into a relationship. Will these two lonely souls be able to save each other?

Naomi Jaye’s adaptation of Martha Baillie’s novel “The Incident Report” shows the limitations of adapting a uniquely stylized novel to the big screen. Baillie’s novel presents its narrative in the form of a series of incident reports written by the main character, a clever way of telling one story while seemingly telling a series of other, smaller stories. Jaye’s film makes Miriam’s incident reports a recurring bit, but doesn’t use them as a storytelling device, meaning that we experience the narrative linearly – as it happens. We spend most of our time with Miriam and Janko – watching their relationship play out in a series of domestic scenes – and the rest of the time with Miriam at the library, dealing with the oddball patrons and finding ever increasingly disturbing notes in ever less hidden places.

The romance at the heart of the film works because of the chemistry between the actors. Both Lower and Mercier are uniquely compelling presences on screen, and their characters have an oddball chemistry that makes them compelling together. On his own, though, Mercier suffers from a poorly written role. Some of Janko’s lines don’t make much sense in context, and Mercier has decided to amplify that in his performance, making Janko seem like he may not be fully present mentally. This could have been interesting, but no one ever acts like he’s said or done something strange, inviting merely confusion as to what Mercier is doing. Lower, however, has been perfectly cast. Her minimalistic precision with her face and voice pairs perfectly with Jaye’s muted directorial style. She draws you in so that you hang on her every movement, waiting to see what she will do next, how she will react to what happens. This special quality elevates the film, which moves too lackadaisical to generate much intrigue outside of the mystery of the note-writer. While the film begins as a quirky character comedy of manners with an undercurrent of melancholy, that melancholy grows throughout the film to become the dominant storytelling force. To the extent that this shift works, it only does so because of Lower’s committed, compelling performance.

Jaye has tried to pull a similar trick to the novel, telling the story around the story that she actually wants to tell and saving that story for the end. This is a high-risk, high-reward situation, one that can be a powerful experience when done well, but one that requires the utmost precision in order to work. That precision is lacking here, as the focus of the story shifts too far in the final act for the audience to grab hold. Perhaps a second viewing will reveal subtle attempts to seed the closing revelations earlier in the film but, on first watch, there’s far too little connective tissue between the first 95 percent of the film and the last five. The only real subplot in the film is Miriam trying to find the writer of the mysterious notes, which the film suddenly abandons in favor of a completely different story in its final minutes. There are connections between the mystery plot and the film’s ultimate story but, because of how the film is structured, these connections only cause more confusion. By the time the film is over, it’s clear that Miriam has been on a deeply personal emotional journey, one that Lower passionately portrays. However, what exactly that journey was and how it connects to the other things we’ve seen remain as confounding for the audience as those mysterious notes were to Miriam.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Britt Lower is a compelling screen presence in this droll character study that mines some unexpected emotional terrain.

THE BAD - Stilted performances, a confounding structure, and a lack of focus make it difficult to connect to the film’s emotional journey.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 4/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Britt Lower is a compelling screen presence in this droll character study that mines some unexpected emotional terrain.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Stilted performances, a confounding structure, and a lack of focus make it difficult to connect to the film’s emotional journey.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>4/10<br><br>"DARKEST MIRIAM"