Sandy Wilson's "My American Cousin" won six Genies, the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Award, which will only confirm the darkest suspicions certain people harbor toward our friendly neighbor to the north. It's one of those coming-of-age movies where we're supposed to take it on faith that the coming of age is a story worth telling, simply because of some assumed resonance with the writer/director's own experience (the heroine, too, is named Sandy). Instead of filmmaking, in other words, we get fake intimacy.
This is called "cheating."
It is the '50s, and 12-year-old Sandy (Margaret Langrick) lives on a big ranch in British Columbia, where she is bored to tears, curious about boys, and chafes under the reins of parental discipline. Enter coz, one Butch (John Wildman), a donkey interested only in girls, his hairdo and his big red Cadillac convertible. She gets a crush on him. He tries to seduce every girl even remotely involved in puberty. They have adventures. In a quiet moment, they trade pense'es on the subject of mortality. And together they chafe under the reins of parental discipline.
"My American Cousin" is pretty thin stuff -- it's a subplot out of "American Graffiti" blown up to feature length -- but Wilson does her best to make it even thinner. The story proceeds without any meaningful conflict except for the continual struggle with Sandy's parents, which doesn't provide much spice, since the parents are such caricatures.
Wilson, though, has a real taste for overdrawing -- Butch's father isn't a father but the ugly Amuhrrican (his first question when he arrives at the ranch is, "How much is this place worth?").
The weakness of the story is only aggravated by the charmlessness of the leading man (the inappropriately named Wildman, who is anything but), the ineptness of the cinematography, the weird unreality of the sound, the outright perversity of the shot selection and the cheesiness of the sound track, on which a number of period tunes are sung.
The movie's rare moments of redemption come only from Langrick, an ingenuous, pie-faced actress whose pouts and eye-rolling capture everything in adolescence that is sulky, self-involved, irksome and even, at times, ingratiating.
My American Cousin, which opened yesterday at the Key Theatre, is rated PG.