display | more...

A woman sits alone in a booth at night, lit by its internal light. The strip mall and parking lot behind her sit empty, dimly lit by non-corporate signs.

Her first night on the job, she can't get into the toilets, so she pees in the alleyway.

Her old high school friends are studying for post-secondary exams. One is planning a wedding. She receives a response on a dating app. With hope, she types, "hi."

"anal?"

She logs off.

We see a lot of empty spaces in this film. Much of it takes place at night and in twilight. We see one character, at peak isolation, lying in the dark on a basketball court. We're in a lonely world composed of socially-isolated people, but it looks heartbreakingly beautiful.

We're in Scarborough, Ontario, a grid of sub/urban sprawl that other inhabitants of the GTA refer to derisively as "Scarberia." True, it has the picturesque Beaches and the must-see Scarborough Bluffs. It's the birthplace of Barenaked Ladies and Mike Myers, who give it some allure, and serial killer Paul Bernardo, who doesn't. Mostly, however, it's known as the arse end of the Toronto subway line.1

Betty, a lonely, somewhat hefty young woman takes a job as night security at a decaying strip mall. She interacts with Rich and Anton, a pair of creepy coworkers who have accepted their dead-end lives, and Danny, a charming strip mall bartender who piques her interest.

Unfortunately, what he sees as friendship she interprets very differently, especially through the haze of occasional heavy drinking. Danny's not a bad guy, but his life lacks direction. He doesn't especially encourage Betty-- he turns down her initial sexual advances-- but he fails, notably, to mention the existence of his girlfriend. The characters' interactions lead to a series of tragi-comic misunderstandings that do little to relieve them of their lonely lives.

The film features two parts that highlight two perspectives on the story, but not in that Rashomon manner. We're not asked to consider if anyone is misrepresenting the narration. The events don't change. However, we only see the parts of them known to either Betty or Danny. The retelling provides us with perspective and context.

I honestly expected to see a third act showing Rich's experience of events, since he plays a key if secondary role in the story Wong wants to tell. Instead, the film fades on our two major players with an open ending.

Rich and Anton have their own banal hell, of which they must be dimly aware.

Wexford Plaza marks the feature debut of writer/director Joyce Wong, who has a handful of shorts, documentaries, and TV show episodes to her name. It features strong imagery, a credible script, and beguilingly believable performances. While the film hasn't become a hit, exactly, it was a 2017-2018 festival favorite and garnered numerous indie/film fest awards and nominations. It's an impressively-constructed. low-key movie, and a sign we may see more from Wong in the future.


Written and directed by Joyce Wong

Reid Asselstine as Betty
Darrel Gamotin as Danny
Francis Melling as Rich
Ellie Posadas as Celine
Mirko Miljevic as Anton

1. While the film takes place in Scarborough, which has an actual Wexford Heights Plaza strip mall, principal filming took place at a different, closed strip mall in North York, just the other side of the 404. At first glance I did a double-take, because the film strip mall resembled an older strip mall in my city. No doubt it resembles one in yours.