*SPOILER ALERT: The entire plot of the film, particularly the twist ending, is discussed in this article. You’ve been warned.
Film has often been a barometer for our changing sexual climate, serving to make mainstream what may be lurking in the privacy of bedrooms. Popular movies as diverse as The Graduate, American Beauty and Boys Don’t Cry have done more than simply observe the complexities of human sexuality, but have forced mass audiences to explore and ultimately embrace our constantly evolving sexual norms. They remind us that there is no “normal” per se, by doing what very few other art forms can do so thoroughly: engaging in the dimensions, angles and shadows of the collective nature that makes us so brutally human. It is not an easy task, and lesser offerings fall victim to pretentiousness, camp, or at worst, quasi-porn.
There have also been many films that have made the attempt to weave narrative storytelling and music into a cohesive feature length piece, with Nine Songs being the most notorious (for both its explicit sexuality and near-vacant plot) recent example. Films attempting to both tell a story and provide a live concert experience have the very daunting task of balancing two different films that need to succeed independently and in relation to each other. More often than not, it is the story that suffers at the expense of the music. Bruce McDonald’s This Movie Is Broken proves an unfortunate example of a film with a narrative so thin that it cannot support the weight of the sexual revolution it wants to parade, and ultimately collapses.
This Movie Is Broken at best suffers from a serious identity crisis, stuck somewhere between a prolonged music video and an arty, cosmopolitan story of contemporary sexuality. To break it down in a nutshell, a boy named Bruno wakes up one morning next to the long-time girl of his dreams, Caroline. She is leaving the next day for France, leaving him one day to truly win her heart. The couple, along with his best friend Blake, goes to a Broken Social Scene concert and the narrative halts for about a solid hour of concert footage. When he lays it all on the line to her, backstage at the show, she takes off. Bruno then goes home with Blake and they have sex. When she arrives back at the end of the night, she finds Blake laying naked in his bed, and thinks nothing of it. She and Bruno cozy up next to him and talk about Broken Social Scene.
The promiscuous bisexual twist at the end is presumably meant to serve as a comment on expanding sexual boundaries among urbane young people, a testament to changing times and daring minds and blurring lines. However the context of the film has a terribly reductive effect on the casual sexuality, and ultimately shoots itself in the foot with broken logic and try-hard chic. Had This Movie Is Broken really sought to explore contemporary attitudes about open sexuality, promiscuity and “true love,” there may have been a very interesting film. But bookending a feature-length concert doc gives its twist the ham-fisted effect of the gender switcheroo in The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” video. There is almost no narrative to speak of in the film, and the only Truth we are offered from Bruno, our protagonist, is that Caroline is the girl of his dreams. To disprove that truth, without being able to support it with a story of complex human characters, renders the act somewhere between tacked-on gimmick and just poor storytelling.
As it is, This Movie Is Broken is a tad insulting to the generation it wants to capture and entertain and inspire. Our protagonist spends the entire film pining over his dream girl, telling us repeatedly in heavy-handed voice-overs that she is the One. He is smitten beyond belief, until she leaves his side for about 40 minutes and at once he leaps at the chance for a casual fling with his best friend. That makes the entire premise of the film’s romantic arch null and void. Further, if it were a woman in his bed, would Caroline be so casual when she discovers the sleeping body? Is it really a fair assessment of 21st century youth to say that we generally tolerate infidelity, sexual or emotional, as long as it stays within the guilty party’s own gender? In it’s quest for Cool, the movie defies a certain basic logic about human honesty, emotion and betrayal, regardless of gender or sexuality. Who wouldn’t be put off to have someone spend the day professing his or her love for you, only to sleep with someone else mere hours later?
This is a film that has likely been really enjoyed by a lot of Broken Social Scene fans. The live footage is shot wonderfully, the sound is recorded brilliantly, and the concert has a certain transcendental effect. It is a rare piece of concert footage that captures a great deal of the energy and dynamics and swelling glee of a great live show. It’s unfortunate that Bruce McDonald, writer Don McKellar and BSS leader Kevin Drew, who collectively conceived the project, didn’t spend more time trying to make their story as compelling as the concert. We may have been left with a film that didn’t feel so sadly juvenile. And conversely, it’s unfortunate that a silly story now mars a potentially phenomenal concert film. But such is the challenge of the “more-than-a-concert-movie” movie: your words have to be strong enough to support all the pretty noise.