The Canadian indie drama Molly Maxwell is a simple telling of a Lolita-ish style seduction done reasonably well. It’s definitely a film coming from an assured first time feature director with a steady hand and a game enough cast, but the material seems curiously lacking in bite overall. It almost makes sense that such a variation on the sexual tension between a student and a mentor would be a Canadian production since despite the somewhat left-of-centre subject matter is delivered almost in the politest and most respectful way possible.
Lola Tash stars as the titular gifted student who seems to be struggling even at an alternative high school where students can pretty much do whatever they want in class. She bounces around between various made-up independent studies and electives, unsure of her lot in life. She begins to develop a crush on her younger than usual English teacher, who just so happens to be a part time troubadour (TIFF 2012 Rising Star Charlie Carrick), and she eventually gets him to supervise her on a study in photography, but eventually a tenuous relationship arises between the two of them that they have to keep on the down low for obvious reasons.
It never kills the film overall because it’s always engaging to watch, but writer/director Sara St. Onge goes back to the “American independent” well. The school doesn’t need to be some hippyish, easily derided alt-academy. Molly’s dad doesn’t need to be a hip, record label executive. Molly’s brother doesn’t need to be a piano prodigy. Her potential lover doesn’t even need to be in a band. These are all quirks that never really pay off to any great degree, making them cheap shorthand for characterization that isn’t there.
The actual love affair at the heart of Molly Maxwell is also chaste almost to a fault. It’s material that cries out for someone just slightly more edgy to pull it off. By the third time the duo hooks up and they repeatedly admonish that their clothes are going to stay on, it’s a plot point that has lost its effectiveness. There’s clearly an impropriety going on that’s building to something, but it gets too neatly resolved. I thought it would be a demerit at first, but thinking about the relationship with the characters and how they don’t even really do all that much it makes perfect sense.
It might sound kind of spoilerish to say something like that, but Molly Maxwell is exactly the type of faux-edginess that’s designed to appeal to a mass audience, and it’s admittedly something that Canadian films don’t do very much. By that same token, the film is trying just so gosh darn hard to please everyone without crossing a line or offending with it’s taboo undercurrent, that every scene plays out to an expected conclusion with very little room for surprise or shock.
Now while it might sound like those are quite a few complaints to have, that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t amusing to watch on a certain level. St. Onge definitely has an eye for cinema, making the most of her low budget to create the best possible look at upper middle class life possible. Tash and Carrick also make for an excellent pairing, making the push and pull between the duo feel natural and unforced. Since everything else in the film feels so static and rigid, it’s nice to have two leads and a director that can play things a bit loosely. It brings charm when needed to advance the relationship and awkward tension when things have to start getting serious. They more than anything are the reason Molly Maxwell squeaks by with a recommendation. It, like its protagonist, strives for greatness and something verboten, but it settles for the nicely predictable instead.