Much like Aurelie's new hairdo, Permanent is a messy, shaggy movie, the second feature from writer/director Colette Burson. The small-town eccentricities, deadpan humor, and overall tone recall Napoleon Dynamite, which has a similar shaggy-dog quality to it, but Permanent strains harder to pull its various threads together into some type of cohesive whole. Still, some audiences (like myself) will probably be willing to give the movie a pass based on the moments of authentic sweetness and humor sprinkled throughout the film, and the spirited performances by the main cast, especially Kira McLean as the perpetually frustrated Aurelie.
Aurelie is unquestionably the best character in the movie, whose struggle to fit in at school, exasperated bitterness at the adult world surrounding her, and casual explorations of sexuality ring with an authenticity that Burson's other characters struggle to capture. There's a warmth to her interactions with Brett (Aidan Fiske), a boy who seems to like her but settles for the easier emotional expression of teasing her. On the bus on her first day, Aurelie sits by Lydia (Nena Daniels), a black girl who is also constantly bullied. Although Burson's depiction of how Lydia is ostracized has a certain uncomfortable comic glibness to it (for instance, she has to spend a period in the "retard" class), the screen chemistry between McLean and Daniels is charming. Most of all, McLean captures the raw emotional turmoil of being a teen with excellent comic timing, finding small moments that ring true even during some of the more overwrought plot beats.
When it comes to Aurelie's parents, however, the film is more adrift. Jim's entry into the school he needs to start studying medicine is blocked by a slightly inexplicable fear of swimming, because he wears a toupee that he worries will come off in the water but also refuses to remove. Although this ties into Aurelie's hair, it's a strange character flaw with weird strings attached to it (the family's money problems are exacerbated by Jim's inability to tap into his scholarship money until he gets in the pool). Patricia Arquette finds more successful moments in her thread as Jeanne, who is sexually frustrated and feels a distance between herself and Jim that she tries to fill with Jerry, whose love of whales aligns with her passion for dolphins. To both performers' credit, Wilson and Arquette have great chemistry, making the eventual resolution of their threads feel satisfying, but many of the scenes getting there feel like dead weight.
The film's climax is as strained as the movie gets, with Burson juggling a number of plot threads that have mostly been introduced in the previous fifteen minutes, and play out like an overly desperate attempt to take a slice-of-life style comedy and wrap it up with a bow. An awkward decision to cut between a physical fight and climactic dramatic character beat underlines the former as contrived and undercuts the latter. McLean and Daniels save a moment that could read like minor white savior-ism with genuine charm, and Jim and Jeanne have a somewhat inexplicable reaction to everything that happens. As a collection of moments, Permanent lands enough of its intimate moments to work, but as a film, it has more than a few kinks.
The Video and Audio
Trailers for Please Stand By, The Final Year, 2:22, and promos for The Charity Network and axsTV play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Permanent is also included.