Overview: A man with a severe gambling addiction goes on the run with his young daughter, who is undergoing vision loss and wants nothing to do with him. Banana-Moon Sky Films/Buffalo Gal Pictures; 2015; Not Rated; 95 minutes.
On the Road Again: Road trip movies are practically a cinematic pastime. They allow for the simplest point A to point B structure and let characters take front and center. Emotions take hold and guide the story through whatever familiar territory the filmmakers wish to take us on. Familiar doesn’t mean bad or boring. In the case of Borealis, familiarity is welcome as what encompasses the 95 minute runtime.
Jonas Chernick and Joey King star as father and daughter duo Jonah and Aurora. They don’t get along well. Jonah’s gambling problems interfere with his ability to be a decent parent. Aurora’s adolescent anger is only amplified as she loses her sight at a young age, unable to blame a single person for her problems, she blames the world. The “angry teenager” trope is used effectively here, turning what should be two dimensional into a heartfelt story between the dual protagonist narratives. That’s the thing about tropes: Just because they’re present doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to a strong pull on the interest of the audience. After Jonah’s gambling gets him into hot water with two thugs and a doctor diagnoses Aurora’s inevitable blindness, he decides to take her on a road trip to see the Northern Lights. Kevin Pollack and Cle Bennett play the thugs hot on their trail to get the money Jonah owes them, and they rock these roles. I’d watch an entire movie about their misadventures in Canada. Borealis understands that these thugs are ultimately antagonistic and can snap when the occasion calls for it. Given Jonah’s misdemeanors and habit of digging himself into more trouble, the occasion ends up calling and leaving a few voicemails while it’s at it.
Eye of the Beholder: Although it provides plenty of tragedy and misfortune, Borealis is not a dark movie. There’s actually a surprising amount of humor sprinkled into the proceedings. The nature of situations (I wouldn’t dare spoil any) range from charming to concerning. There’s a fluidity to the range of emotions on display, with a deft touch in regards to the characters and their faults. It’s a rather bleak movie if the film strays too far left into one territory and too comedic if actors miscalculate the comedic timing. The final act brings it all home in a big way, by having characters literally look at who they are, where they’ve come from, and where they’re going.
Overall: Make no mistake, these are flawed people in director Sean Garrity’s latest film. Their mistakes pile on top of one another, and the world doesn’t cut them any slack, but one thing’s for sure: At the end of the day, Jonah and Aurora have each other, and maybe that’s all they need.