Set in Depression-era Nova Scotia, "The Bay Boy" is a coming-of-age story, and come of age young Donald Campbell does. He discovers unrequited love and requited love -- in the same household, actually; angelic Saxon Coldwell (Leah Pinsent) spurns him, saucy Diana Coldwell spurs him on. This sex stuff isn't bad -- that Mary McNeil (Isabelle Mejias), she's a tart, too. What chance does the priesthood have, even if that's the future charted for him by his suffering mother? (And when was the last time Liv Ullmann wasn't suffering?)
The movie is easy on the eyes, nicely photographed in tweedy duns and forest greens (by director Daniel Petrie and cinematographer Claude Agostini). As Donald, Kiefer Sutherland has something of the engaging goofiness of a young Dick Van Dyke. When you don't have to think about the story, in the scenes where these young Scots shamble down the dirt roads, skates bouncing on shoulders, while Claude Bolling's rollicking score bounces along with them, "The Bay Boy" has a casual, period charm.
But there is that thing, the story. "The Bay Boy" is a kind of "McGuffey Reader" of film cliche's: the brother retarded, such a strain on the family's resources, but how horrible the state home; Pa, unemployed but gamely scraping by; Ma, baking pies to keep the family afloat. And the homosexual priest and the cop who's a killer, so that Campbell can be disillusioned. And the mine that all the kids want to stay out of. And Ma saying, "Yahr gettin' tall! And gud lookin' too!" And Pa saying, "Why are you always filling his head with all that college stuff? You did all right with a fellow who never went," and giving Ma a homey hug. And Son saying plaintively, "I want to help out -- you and Pa."
Exit pursued by a bairn.
The Bay Boy, opening today at the K-B Paris, is rated R and contains nudity, profanity, some violence and mild sexual situations.