COVID-19 Update

Based on the latest recommendations re: Novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 from the⁣⁣ Chief Medical Officer of Ottawa Public Health, the ByTowne is closed. ⁣⁣
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Thank you all for your support and we hope to see you very soon!

(Updated April 20)




Best on the bestselling novel by Carol Shields.

A comfortable Ontario family is thrown into turmoil when its eldest daughter inexplicably becomes a Toronto street person. Irish director Alan Gilsenan’s film Unless is an admirable adaptation of the challenging final novel of Pulitzer-winning author Carol Shields. Absent the book’s ruminations about writing and feminist issues, what’s left is an arresting premise that is not long on dramatic development but, gracefully crafted and acted, proves rewarding in the end.

Poster for the film UnlessReta Winters (Keener) and physician husband Tom (Matt Craven) live at a pleasant remove from city life, with two teenage daughters (Chloe Rose, Abigail Winter) still at home. Their moderately hectic everyday life grinds to a standstill, however, upon learning that eldest daughter Norah (Hannah Gross) has dropped out of university and been seen on the streets of Toronto as an apparently homeless person.

A panicked drive into town verifies this: Norah sits catatonically on a busy corner under the gaudy signage of discount retailer Honest Ed’s, plaintively holding a sign with the cryptic message ‘Goodness.’ She doesn’t respond to her parents’ and sisters’ coaxing and exasperated attempts to bring her home, and since she’s over 18, she can’t be forced out of her voluntary straits. Instead, family members must settle for keeping a barely acknowledged vigil with the silent young woman, hoping that she will one day snap out of ...whatever this is.

Just what pushed Norah over the edge is a source of bewildered torment for Reta. Despite the inescapable worry, Reta tries to continue with her professional pursuits, which include working on a novel of her own, continuing a long-term relationship as translator to a famed feminist thinker (Hanna Schygulla), and enduring persistent inquiries from her new publishing-house editor in New York (Benjamin Ayres).

Keener’s customary air of intelligent authority makes her easily credible as a successful mid-career author, and she provides a strong emotional centre here – particularly in a final mother-daughter scene that understatedly addresses the bigger questions behind Norah’s ‘protest’. Craven provides excellent support, and other actors are well-cast.

Director Gilsenan brings considerable skill to a challenging task, compensating for the internal nature of Shields’s novel by creating a handsome flow of ruminative widescreen images. Jonathan Goldsmith’s score includes welcome vintage tracks by Canadian artists, including Leonard Cohen and the McGarrigle sisters.

– Dennis Harvey, Variety

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