On the Fringe of Wild (★☆☆☆☆) appears headed for prime coming-out territory as it introduces in swift succession three Canadian high school boys, each wrestling in various ways with adolescent sexual confusion. Lonesome artist Peter (Harrison Browne), closeted bully Miles (Mikael Melo), and shy, gentle Jack (Cameron Stewart) all reside in a remote Ontario town, representing that a healthy percentage of the young dudes in this tiny burg might be gay. Yet, no one there seems the least bit accepting of LGBTQ people.
Jack suffers physical and verbal abuse at the hands of his alcoholic single dad, Harry (Adam Jenner), while Peter is pushed to “man up” by his dad, Nathan (Andrew Bee), and taunted relentlessly by school bullies like closet-case Miles and unsuspecting beard Candace (Andrea Pavlovic). At home, Miles and his single mom, Diane (Audrey Nesbitt), sustain a mutually hostile dynamic that Melo and Nesbitt whip into frothy, foul-mouthed melodrama, the film’s only real hint of humor, albeit unintentional.
The parents we meet in this town clearly are more troubled and confused than their kids — with the notable exception of Peter’s sensitive, with-it mom, Beccy (Bernadette Medhurst). It’s likely no coincidence that the one adult character written to have a lick of sense also elicits from Medhurst the movie’s most convincing performance among the grown-ups. She also gets off the sharpest line, informing thick-headed hubby Nathan that forcing Peter to join him on a so-called man’s trip to the Ontario woods “isn’t gonna make him any less gay.”
Still, they go off for a weekend of doing manly things at a secluded cabin in the North Bay woods, where it so happens that gentle Jack and his dad also live, where it also happens that Miles and Candace either live or are passing through conveniently. Emma Catalfamo, in her directing debut, fails to establish where any place in this town is relative to any other place, including a sort of abandoned, yet well-stocked cabin to which Peter and Jack escape when they both run away from their unyielding dads and, again, just happen to encounter each other in this crowded forest.
The movie grazes over small relatable details, like spacial distance and character development, instead taking big, wide swings at Serious Issues, like child abuse, homophobia, and sexual coercion and assault. Depicted with more care and nuance — and more than one note of drunken intolerance on the part of Jenner’s abusive Harry — any one or two of these boys’ stories might have made for a potentially heartrending portrayal of queer teenage angst and isolation. But the convergence of all three, plus half the town, in this one patch of woods undercuts any sense that Peter, Jack, or even Miles are lonely souls searching through the wilderness for understanding.
Peter and Jack do find each other, and their moments of PG-rated romantic idyll before their hiding place is discovered provide a sole, slim thread of sweetness. Stewart, especially, handles Jack’s trajectory as the most put-upon of all these characters with endearing depth and openness. Yet his effort feels betrayed, as the movie steers into its weirdly-conceived relationship triangle and a bleak conclusion that leaves practically everyone at least a step behind from where they started.
On the Fringe of Wild is available on DVD and on VOD platforms including iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and cable and satellite providers.
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