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« In Which We Remain Very Unassuming »



As embodied by the gorgeous Liane Balaban (the unholy spawn of Natalie Portman, St. Vincent, and Winona Ryder), Mooney Pottie is simply one of those girls who is just too much for the small, provincial seaside town of New Waterford, Nova Scotia. She's too arty, too creative, and too uninterested in the typical paths of life in the 70s: marriage and a brood full of hockey-playing, screaming kids.

The coming-of-age story usually treads the familiar ground of a teenager losing their innocence or growing wise to the ways of the world. When the person coming-of-age is a wise and willful teenage girl, precocious and precious, the story often takes their agency away from them in a cruel twist, showing them how the world really works. It is exhausting to watch these precocious teenage girls learn about the many cruelties that life has to offer. That is why, when the rare coming-of-age story with a distinctly realistic, feminine perspective comes along — the sort of story that isn't interested in punishing the lead character's naivete — we find it hard to let go, whether the protagonist is Anne Shirley, Andrea Marr, or Angela Chase.

1999's New Waterford Girl was a humble, unassuming Canadian indie that never really had a chance to find an audience beyond DVD and video. Despite its Canadian obscurity, the delightful heroine, Mooney Pottie, deserves to be mentioned in the pantheon of feminist coming-of-age heroines. She knows the typical New Waterford life well, of course: as the spawn of one of those families, she has to fight for every scrap of food at the table and fight for any bit of attention.

Mooney doesn't even have her own bedroom, just a tucked away corner in the hall. She's as ripe for big-city adventure as Patti Smith was at the beginning of Just Kids. It's easy to relate to Balaban — total girlcrush material, she even has her own adorable website about periods, Crankytown, and I hope to see her all the time — she's downright luminous, and you want her to have a smile on her face, instead of teen misfiting it through this boring little town.

Instead of Mooney venturing off to the city, the city comes to her in two ways. First, an understanding teacher who sent her name in for an arts scholarship at a New York City high school — it's hers if she can pull it off — and secondly, a new friendship with Lou Benzoa (Tara Spencer-Nairn), the brassy Bronx-escapee next door, totally confused as to the hows and whys of this weird little Canadian town where everyone sounds Scottish. The New York opportunity presents a conundrum which Mooney deigns to solve in an ingenious way: get a reputation as the town slut, get "pregnant," get "sent away" for nine months and put that fake baby up for adoption.

Lou is her partner in these shenanigans. Their friendship develops along distinctly Canadian lines, certain shots of the two together — particularly on the moors — echo Anne of Green Gables and Diana Shirley in the 80s TV adaptation. And as the two girls carouse around town, and as Mooney lets herself maybe find a local boy quasi-attractive, the film takes on a distinctly female gaze, best embodied by a slow-motion, lusty leer at a line of hockey studs exiting the locker room, set to a crunching glam-rock song.

New Waterford Girl was directed by Allan Moyle, the sort of director who wouldn't quite make the level of highly-praised auteur, and yet, he still has a knack for films that express that teenage feeling, and if viewed at the right point, settle down in some small part of your soul: Times Square, Pump Up the Volume, Empire Records. But New Waterford Girl's magic is one of those nice combinations of brilliant debut actress, a solid director, and a killer screenplay. Screenwriter Tricia Fish, a former assistant to the Kids in the Hall, put something together that was funny and tight, but above all, it felt personal and from the heart.

Mooney is wrestling with her identity and individuality, and how her location has shaped those traits, whether through proximity or in the negative. By the end of New Waterford Girl, a bonfire singalong of a Canadian traditional that unites all the teen actors, teen moms, mean popular girls, and even self-styled exiles like Mooney — you realize that she will mourn the town she's leaving.

We may not choose our hometown; our hometown chooses us. And it is, in some ways, totally unfair. But as much as we try to deny it — you, me, and Mooney Pottie — we carry our hometown with us, in some way, for the rest of our life. For Mooney Pottie, it's a memory of rough land, the sound of the waves crashing against rocks, a certain slant of slight, when cloudy skies meet yellow fields in a place of permanent winter.

Elisabeth Donnelly is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here She last wrote in these pages about the life of John Cheever and AMC's Breaking Bad.

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