I’m thinking about two films I saw recently.
Last week I finally saw Spielberg’s West Side Story. One of the songs in that film is the lens through which I viewed today’s film: Scarborough.
In the 1961 film and the original musical from the 1950s, the young lovers Tony and Maria dream of a happy ending to the story in the song “Somewhere”. They say “there’s a place for us” even though it’s not clear that they will ever find such a place.
But that’s not how Spielberg gave it to us. In the 2021 version of the story, Rita Moreno plays Valentina, the proprietor of a drugstore where Tony lives. She of all people sings the song, a text that speaks to something more universal than anything else in the musical.
I wonder if they got the idea from a live concert performance she gave in 2019..?
That’s the lens through which I’m thinking about the new movie I saw today, Scarborough (2021), co-directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson, written by Catherine Hernandez in her adaptation of her novel of the same name.
I’ll get to Scarborough, but I can’t avoid the way I see 2022 through the filter of the song we heard from Rita Moreno in Spielberg’s film. Having someone old sing it accomplishes a few things. It reminds us that the dream is universal. That someone who played in the original West Side Story when she was young and vital is now singing “Somewhere” makes it feel like a poignant link to the original film, as though her character has grown old and still dreams of peace and acceptance sixty-one years later. I was disoriented and can’t be the only one who experienced this. Of course the issues haven’t gone away. We know she was in that film in her youth. And now in 2022 people still face this challenge, wondering if there really is a place for us. When you see someone old and seemingly alone singing this, it hits you differently.
“Somewhere” seems to pose a question, the longing for what we don’t yet have, underlying everything right now. The news often tells us of refugees dying or arriving, of floods of immigrants at the southern border of the USA, of a war for turf in Ukraine, where the Jets aren’t a NY street-gang but actual fighter-planes, of the simmering hostility in Korea. In Ontario we hear that developers will be helped by the government in coping with an expected surge in our population, a highway is to be built through the greenbelt, that housing is unaffordable in our city, and not much better anywhere else.
When we hear “there’s a place for us” it could be the singers themselves wondering: where will their companies be housed? The Distillery District no longer houses Tapestry Opera or the other arts organizations and artists they used to welcome. The performers are squeezed by the lack of affordable housing.
Gentrification is driving people away from Toronto.
The film Scarborough makes a terrific chaser to West Side Story. Here’s the description from IMDB:
“Scarborough is the film adaptation of the award-winning novel by Catherine Hernandez. Over the course of a school year, 3 kids in a low-income neighbourhood find community and friendship at a drop-in reading program.”
Don’t let me scare you away from Scarborough. Yes there’s some darkness in this film, some abusive behaviour, some racism from one loudmouth parent, a brilliant creation from Conor Casey. While both films show us people in the midst of a wealthy society that offers them minimal assistance, this isn’t a world of choreographed dances or fights. We don’t get to escape from reality during a song, tempting as that might be. It’s as real as children in a playground playing, bullying and then rescuing each other.
Scarborough is full of excellent performances, especially the children. I’m a bit hesitant about names because I’m not sure who played whom. Everyone was very good. I mention Anna Claire Beitel as Laura because she does an amazing job with a very important character in the film, and in this instance I’m certain I’ve identified the right person.
Co-director Rich Williamson shot and edited the film, giving it a truly beautiful look and feel. We’re often intimately close with the kids as they speak the astonishingly authentic dialogue. We may be seeing them in camera angles literally looking up at adults, the ones with all the power. Some of them are scary, some of them are actually nice, just like real life.
The musical score from Rob Teehan is sometimes moody to gently set the scene, sometimes more powerful to reflect the tensions of the characters. There is nothing I’d change, the film sounds and looks perfect.
After seeing Elvis a few days ago, I re-watched Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, his first big success. While Scarborough is much darker, more realistic in tone and in presentation than Strictly Ballroom, there is some of the same giddy joy to finish the story. In the end, if a story’s resolution doesn’t connect to the situation or the characters, or if it seems too unlikely then it’s going to be troubling rather than satisfying. They’ve made the last half hour gorgeous, and yet it has heart, emerging perfectly out of what has gone before.
I will watch it again and recommend it to anyone looking for a good movie. I’m doubly proud that this film bears the name of the place where I live, a wonderful example of Canadian cinema. I love it.
It’s currently available on Crave.