The Discovery programme at TIFF is meant to showcase emerging directors with promising futures, which is the perfect place for Pat Mills’ Guidance. Mills not only wrote and directed the film, but also plays the lead, David Gold, a down and out actor who lies to get a job as a high school guidance councillor and helps the kids with his unique brand of drunken advice. An irresponsible adult put in charge of impressionable adolescents isn’t something we haven’t seen on screen before, but Mills has created an intriguing character who exemplifies the human train wreck that you can’t look away from.
The film begins with Gold recording Stuart Smalley-esque daily affirmations in his “gentle voice” that causes everyone to believe he’s gay. Gold’s sexuality is constantly called into question, he is in denial yet his character is tragic, funny, immature and yet oddly enlightened all at once. The affirmations are heard throughout the film and work well as ironic juxtaposition to his poor choices.
Though many of Gold’s hijinks are played for comedic purposes, this isn’t School of Rock or Bad News Bears, so don’t count on an uplifting ending. Guidance may be a little rough around the edges in places, often constrained by budget no doubt, but Mills has crafted a debut film that has secured my attention for whatever he does next.