Review: ‘Body and Bones’ charts a painful coming of age story against a Newfoundland backdrop

We all make mistakes when we are young. That shouldn’t be news to anyone who isn’t a teenager now, because we’ve all been teenagers. Many pressures in life feel like the end of the world when you are eighteen, and many that can knock your whole world off track.

Tess is an 18-year-old whose whole world has been knocked off track. She lives in a tiny town in Newfoundland, in a house she technically owns as she inherited it when her mother passed away. The only person she has in the world is her mother’s boyfriend, who is moving on with his life and moving them both in with his new girlfriend.

She has become so desperate for some escape from her life that she has become stuck in it, until one day she finds a man in her kitchen. The man is Danny, the son of the woman she now shares a home with, and ne’er do well folk singer who ghosted the town twenty years prior.

The attraction that forms is, in a word, problematic. Partly this is due to the age difference, but also it’s because Tess latches on to him as the one person who seems to have escaped the life she feels trapped in.

The problem, of course, is that Danny is a ne’er do well. In the few short days he spends at home they form a genuine connection. He’s charming and has an alluring life in the big city that she desperately wants to experience. When he leaves, Danny tells her to look him up if she’s ever in the city; she arrives in the city within the week.

If you grew up in a small town, you probably have some inkling of what she is dreaming about. It’s hard to live in a small place where everyone knows your trauma when the worlds so big. The naive thought that the first person from outside is going to rescue you from that world is probably a more common one than we want to admit. The problem with Danny is of course that he is the ne’er do well that the town believes him to be.

Tess latches onto him like a puppy, but the connection they shared in the small town turns to something less than in the city. Tess tries desperately to change herself into the person she thinks Danny wants, but the problem is that he doesn’t really want her at all.

There is a lot that is familiar with Body and Bones. First-time feature director (and writer) Melanie Oates has a strong eye for composition and moves the camera in and around Tess and Danny in a way that contrasts what Tess sees as intimacy, and what Danny sees as a lark.

Kelly Van der Berg plays Tess with that perfect mix of teenage insecurity, longing and naiveté that most of us, particularly those of us who grew up in small towns, will be able to relate to. Joel Thomas Hynes’s Danny is a man we all know at least one of. When we’re young, he seems like the cool guy, and we don’t know why the adults have such a bad opinion of him. In reality, he’s a childish, selfish asshole. Hynes walks the line between these two versions of Danny excellently.

Body and Bones is a coming of age tale that follows Tess as the realities of the world and the people in it force her to transition from child to adult, to think about who she is and what she has instead of who and what she wishes she were. It’s a painful transition, but one worth exploring.

Body and Bones is released on demand in Canada today.

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