Firecrackers, the debut feature from writer-director Jasmin Mozaffari, centres on Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans), a couple of teenage besties. The film never states what part of Canada the girls live, but it’s the type of no prospect dead-end town guys like Stompin’ Tom made a living singing about. With nothing better to do, teens in their town party way too hard, have kids way too young, and then settle into miserable lives.
Lou and Chantal plan on breaking the cycle. They’re fresh off finishing high school, and now it’s time to put their plans into motion. They’ve spent the past year working in a fleabag motel; scrubbing toilets and changing dirty sheets so they could squirrel away cash for their getaway. And when the film kicks off, they finally have enough money to blow town and head for New York.
But before they get away, things go off the rails. Chantal’s bitter ex storms back into her life, and things get messy. The guy who promised to drive the girls out of town is bros with Chantal’s sleazebag ex, so he ghosts the girls. Stuck once again, leaving town only gets more complicated.
Every day, Lou’s sweet younger brother (Callum Thompson) suffers their mom’s abuse. And the mom’s sketchy new lover is getting too cozy in their family’s home. Making matters worse, an “incident” costs the girl’s their cash stash, leaving them broke. The odds say that the two friends are small town lifers, and they’re forced to make tough decisions if they plan on beating those odds.
Firecrackers isn’t your typical glossy, feel-good coming-of-age film. Mozaffari opts for a raw and unfiltered storytelling approach. The film’s performances, dialogue, cinematography, and diegetic music all add up to an in-your-face style that crackles with energy.
You can’t discuss Firecrackers without talking about Kurimsky’s intense performance as Lou, which anchors the movie. This may be a story about two best friends, but Lou is our point of view character. Calling Lou a handful is like saying that piranhas like to nip. She fights, she f*cks, and she drops F-bombs like a Def Jam comic. But what’s notable here is that Lou isn’t easy to like. It’s easier to root for her circumstances than her personality.
We don’t have to like our movie protagonists, but we must be able to endure them. Kurimsky walks a fine line, keeping the viewer invested in Lou’s struggle without putting them off. She peels back Lou’s thorny exterior just enough to reveal the hurting young woman beneath. Life has not been kind to Lou, and she’s pushing back the only way she knows how: through wild acts of teenage rebellion.
Mozaffari has an exceptional ear for dialogue. The way her characters speak feels crude and true-to-life and matches the tenor of the casts’ performances. Anyone can pepper their script with F-bombs, but Mozaffari captures the cadence of real-life conversations. Chantal, Lou, her mom, and their boyfriends speak like people I grew up around. The dialogue isn’t splashy or especially clever, but it’s functional and could pass for real life. I couldn’t tell if actors repeated the script verbatim or if they adlibbed scenes. This approach doesn’t work in every film, but it fits cohesively with the tone Mozaffari aims for.
Catherine Lutes’ cinematography makes such a strong impression it should receive third-billing. Lutes shoots much of the film outdoors in natural light, and at times it feels like the actors may leap off the screen. Plenty of in-your-face shots and shaky handheld work put you right in the mix as Lou and Chantal’s third wheel.
Much of the music in the film comes from the girls’ TVs, radios, and phones. It’s the type of high-energy, electro-pop bangers you would hear while shopping in Forever 21. When Casey Manierka-Quaile’s score kicks in, though, it’s a whole different vibe. These tunes sound like a kaiju’s deep, unsettling, bass-heavy sobs and underscore the turmoil and uncertainty in Lou’s life. This heavy and disturbing music weighs on your chest like a 20-pound weight. The town’s downtrodden look and Manierka-Quaile’s oppressive score combine to put viewers in the girl’s emotional states.
It’s easy to point fingers at those who lead lives we don’t understand. But Mozaffari reminds us that the people society labels as burnouts, write-offs, and lost causes – or in many cases, ambitionless, lazy, takers – were once young and filled with hope. Firecrackers shows us how a small town’s lack of opportunities creates cycles of poverty and depression. And these cycles get passed down through generations like a socio-economic plague.
The beauty of cinema is how it speaks to our mind and touches our spirit. Smart movies spark dialogues, help us see ourselves in others, and foster empathy for people unlike ourselves. Firecrackers doesn’t solve Lou and Chantal’s problems. It’s not a fairy-tale, after all. But it does explore the root of their emotional wounds. We don’t have to like Lou and Chantal, but it’s essential that we see them. And hopefully, even understand them.