Roadkill (1989)

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Valerie Buhagiar as intern Ramona in Roadkill

Cinematic Canada is always a bridesmaid and never a bride. We’re often referred to by outsiders and inhabitants alike as “America’s little brother," but I don’t think we’re related at all, at least not in the family sense. If the world is a high school, then America is the popular quarterback, and Canada is the offbeat, self-aware kid, marching to their own drumbeat. It’s a shame then, as you can imagine, for a Canadian film enthusiast to sense a lack of representation of the cinematic Canada in mainstream film because to the world, Canada isn’t Canada; it’s a backdrop. A director like Woody Allen relies upon New York because a Woody Allen film lives and breathes the city, but in Canada, Vancouver is San Francisco or Seattle, and Toronto is New York or Chicago. As Canadian film lovers, we often resign ourselves to be content with the occasional blinks of the familiar, while our cities masquerade as American metropolises. Other times, Canadian films are patriotic to an obnoxious extent, and makes you think “Can’t we just play it cool?”. For going against all of the above "standards", I completely love Bruce McDonald’s Roadkill.

Roadkill is filmed in and set in Ontario, along highway 69, but unlike a lot of Canadian films, doesn’t need a distinctly Canadian story. Roadkill is set in Canada, but shies away from the embarrassing über Canadian fanfare that you’d imagine would accompany an Ontario road trip movie. The film follows Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar), a young woman sent to Sudbury to track down a band called Children of Paradise, and bring them back to Toronto. She has plenty of misadventures along the way and encounters all kinds of characters as she’s forced further and further north. The tricky part about Ramona's story is that she doesn't know how to drive. But, her eagerness to join the highway and leave her home gives Ramona a kind of naive, but all the same, adventure-starved air. One particularly great character is a hilariously dark serial-killer wannabe, eager to be join the profession because in Northern Ontario, you're "either a hockey player or you join a life of crime". Others in the cast of oddballs include the voluntarily mute lead singer of Children of Paradise, a dope tokin' taxi driver, and a voracious documentarian (played by director Bruce McDonald). 

What’s so great about Roadkill is how accessible it could potentially be outside of Canada. Sure, non-Canadian audiences might have no idea what Kapuskasing is, or who the Dionne Quintuplets are, or fully "get" the hockey jokes, but aside from a distinctly Canadian flavour, it’s a fun, off the wall road trip movie that’s funny and touching and beautifully dark without being reliant on its setting. But for those who might need some frame of reference, I would liken the spirit of Roadkill to that of the Coen Brothers. Even the opening sequence of a rabbit, anxiously squatting roadside, conjures images of the brothers’ 1987 film, Raising Arizona. And visually, the film is remarkably similar to Kevin Smith’s Clerks. (1994), even radiating that same kind of charm that Clerks. has…the charm of course being in between all the dick jokes. Throw in a strong independent woman à la Frances Ha, and you’ve got Roadkill. I can’t recommend it enough. 


Dir. Bruce McDonald
Starring Valerie Buhagiar, Bruce McDonald, Gerry Quigley, Larry Hudson, Don McKellar
80 mins | Canada

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