In 10 Words or Less
24 hours in the island town of Wilby
Movies about small towns generally follow the same concept: there's a seedy underside to everything beautiful, and eventually, the stress of trying to keep things secret gets to be too much, leading to a breakdown. Wilby Wonderful is no different, just that the secrets aren't of the usual who's-sleeping-with-who variety. Well... they kind of are, but not like one might expect.
The people of Wilby, who call themselves islanders, couldn't exactly be called open-minded. They have issues with anyone not like them, whether that person is a mainlander, a single mother or other. Central to their issues is Wilby Watch, a tree-filled area that's the scene of a scandal that's about to explode on Wilby, when the local paper prints the names of those involved. Smartly, the film doesn't explain exactly what happened, but instead drops hints along the way.
Though the scandal, and the truth behind it, is the motivation for the film, the people involved are the focus. The Parker Posey for the new millennium, Sandra Oh (Sideways), plays Carol, a business-first mainlander who married an islander cop, Buddy (Paul Gross, "Due South"). Carol is having a bit of a breakdown as she tries to sell a house owned by a quietly suicidal man (James Allosi, Men with Brooms). His efforts to off himself give Carol nothing but grief, and her efforts to overcome his efforts mirror the town's efforts to hide its secrets.
Meanwhile, Buddy is trying to get a handle on his marriage, as well as the motivation behind the town's fascination with The Watch. When he stumbles onto the reality behind the scandal, he has to settle his conscience with what's going on with his small town, and do what he thinks is right. The same goes for his interest in Sandra, a recently-returned islander, who is struggling with a daughter who is following in her footsteps, much to her chagrin. There's plenty going on in this small town, and it's all part of one bigger tale.
The intertwined stories of Wilby are told with smooth confidence by writer/director Daniel MacIvor. Not afraid to let the camera sit still when the scene calls for it, he also utilizes small, elegant movements that heighten emotion of scenes that would otherwise seems static. Such efficient use of technique makes for a subtle, beautiful film.
Film Movement released Wilby Wonderful as the second film in their third-year schedule. The packaging is Film Movement's standard, a single disc in a clear keepcase. Film Movement uses a generic disc-art design for their DVDs that makes all their releases look alike.
The DVD cover, printed on both sides, makes good use of the see-through case, with production notes on the inside front cover. Menus are formatted to the series, with the main screen animated simply with a box of footage from the film. Options include play, scene access, set up, special features, the monthly short film and an info screen for Film Movement. A nicely animated transition follows the main menu. The scene selection menus feature still previews and titles for each screen, while the set up allows you to choose between English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. There is a catalog insert included, and the film has closed captioning.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the lush color of the island is reproduced nicely on DVD, with solid blacks and excellent skin tones. There's no evidence of any compression errors or visible grain, and there's certainly no dirt or damage on the transfer. The audio, available in 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo, is good, though, as a low-key comedy, there's not much to the sound field. The music gets a boost in the surround track, but for the most part, the surround speakers just have a bit of ambient sound. There's no trouble with the dialogue or the sound mix, and there's no distortion.
Wilby Wonderful doesn't feature an extensive group of bonuses. There are some text biographies for the main players and a list of other films available from the Movement, as well as the main extra: the short film that's included on each release. This month's film is A Thousand Words, presented in full-frame, with a 2.0 soundtrack. Clocking in at just over eight minutes, the short owes a debt to Stan Brakhage, the single-frame artist that pioneered the techniques used here. Combining Super 8 footage shot by the director's father during Vietnam, with still photos, the film has the Brakhage-look, but the power is in the narration. A voice-over by the director's father, a victim of a stroke, is haunting, as he tries to answer questions, while the pictures depict a much more capable man. It's in no way a feel-good film, but it is effective in what it does.
The Bottom Line
One of the reasons why I was excited to check out Wilby Wonderful is a blurb about the film that compared it to Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. Having watched this film now, I don't think I could make that stretch in describing Wilby, unless I was to call it a very, very intimate Magnolia. A more apt comparison might be Mumford, Lawrence Kasdan's underrated small-town film. Wilby is a very comfortable film that tells a smart story with plenty of plot and heart. The DVD isn't quite loaded, but the film is absolutely worth a look.