Any story powerfully told, no matter the subject matter, has the potential to garner attention and accolades. This is true for Canadian film The Lesser Blessed. Holding the stage is the Tlicho First Nation of the Northwest Territories — a group rarely in the movie spotlight. Yet, the story depicted is one we have all seen or can relate to. The film is based on a novel of the same title written by Richard Van Camp, a graduate of UVic’s writing program. It screened at the Victoria Film Festival on Feb. 9 to a full crowd at The Vic Theatre.
Small-town life, no matter where, has its charms and its drawbacks. Through the life of main character Larry Sole, an introverted, gangly Tlicho teen struggling to fit in, we only see the latter. In the remote fictional town of Fort Simmer, Larry makes his way in with cool kids at his high school and experiences his “firsts” with love and drugs. Throw in a dark past with an abusive father, post-traumatic issues and a local bully ready to take advantage of it all, and you have trouble.
Joel Evans plays Larry and is a first-time actor who hails from Fort Smith, NWT, where Van Camp is from and where the novel takes place. Evans proves to be a miracle casting choice for the role. Director Anita Doron singled him out in a hallway at his high school. He hadn’t planned to audition and had no previous acting experience or training. In his performance, he is remarkable as a young man both brave and powerless in the face of fire.
Benjamin Bratt lends the film a bit of star power as Jed, the boyfriend of Larry’s mother, and the only real father figure in his life. Bratt has some indie-cred to his name (Piñero, La Mission) —which might surprise those who only know him from films like Miss Congeniality and appearances on TV’s Modern Family — and continues to earn it in this film. When Larry’s most burning secret is revealed, he runs away but fails to escape anything. His memories only become more vivid. Jed comes to the rescue and gives the young teen some advice so that he can save himself: a few times in your life you will be given the opportunity to confront your burdens head-on; take that chance as it will decide the way of your future. Perhaps we can all learn from that.