Cloudburst (2011) dir. Thom Fitzgerald
Starring: Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker, Ryan Doucette, Kristin Booth
By Greg Klymkiw
"They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'" - Jack Kerouac, On The Road
The open road is freedom, but in reality and in the best popular culture, there is always a point where one must reach the end of the road. Sometimes it's sad and empty, sometimes it's not what you expected, often it's bittersweet. Whatever lies at the end of the journey, it's the ride that should always be the thing. It's what you discover and celebrate on the road that is often far more important than what's waiting there (if anything) when it ends.
Stella (Olympia Dukakis) and Dot (Brenda Fricker) have lived an incredible journey of love and mutual respect as a couple for over 30 years, but when circumstances seemingly beyond their control threaten the joy and happiness they've had, the open road becomes the only real way to obtain a pot of proverbial gold at the end of a new journey.
Family, it seems, is not always defined by blood - it takes love - and for this couple, family comes in the unlikeliest of places and circumstances. Love is what defines lives well lived and this couple have had love in spades, but in order to keep it unfettered from the unwelcome intrusion of a well meaning, but completely out-to-lunch blood relative - public affirmation becomes the ultimate goal. They must marry.
The problem is that they live in the United States and can only gain the legal status as a married couple in Canada. What's a foul-mouthed, cowboy-hat-adorned, k.d. lang-obsessed, self-described old dyke and her jolly, sweet, visually-impaired longtime companion to do? What would you do? Me, I'd hop in my half-ton pickup truck, stock it with k.d. lang CDs, pick up a hunky male hitchhiker headed to visit his ailing Mom in Nova Scotia and cross the 49th parallel to get myself good and hitched - kind of like Stella and Dot do in the lovely, funny and touching new film written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald.
Cloudburst is a movie that needed a deft directorial touch and a script that could take the cliches normally associated with road movies and generate truth, humanity and humour and thankfully, for the most part it succeeds in this regard.
For years I kept wondering when director Thom Fitzgerald, who made one of the most thrilling feature debuts of the 90s, The Hanging Garden, was going to generate a picture that fulfilled the considerable promise displayed in that exquisite heartbreaker of a movie. This is not to discount the intervening years of work, but Cloudburst feels like a return to form and, on occasion, a step or two forward.
Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker are tremendous actresses, but given the emphasis these days upon demographics and the usual requirements from studios and other financiers to cater exclusively to younger audiences, the number of great roles for talents in this august age group are getting fewer-and-far-between-er. Fitzgerald crafted two roles that any great actress would love to sink her teeth into and frankly, Dukakis and Fricker are so captivating, moving and funny, I have to admit it feels like they were born to eventually step into these parts.
Set against the lush, superbly photographed backdrop of Nova Scotia, Fitzgerald took this story, a sort of gentle retirement-age Thelma and Louise, and both wisely and bravely delivered a tale that's as mature as it's downright universal. Love should have no boundaries and his direction indelibly captures a love story that's familiar, but bolstered by such genuine compassion, that I frankly can't imagine any audience not succumbing to it's considerable charms.
There are a few overwrought moments of humour that try a bit too hard, but for the most part, I found myself laughing heartily and genuinely and damn it all, I shed more than a few tears.
It's one of the few unabashedly sentimental celebrations of love I've seen in quite some time. The picture wears its heart proudly on its sleeve and while there's something just a little bit old-fashioned about that, Fitzgerald handles the proceedings with such grace, that everything old becomes happily new again. Some might choose to deny the power of sentiment, but they'd be lying (or just plain foolish). We all need sentiment from time to time and Cloudburst is the right time, the right place and just the right film to make us all feel grateful for the joy that life, with all its ups and downs, bestows upon us and hopefully prepares us for whatever journey we take beyond the end of the road.
"Cloudburst" is the opening night gala presentation at this year's Canadian Film Fest running March 28-31 at the Royal Theatre in Toronto. For more information, visit the festival's website HERE.