1991 | Dir. Gail Singer | 95 minutes
Reviewed by Sarah London
The Nutty Club, Jeanne’s cake, youth screaming about how they can’t wait to get out of this damn town: the 1991 film True Confections is a Winnipeg movie.
True Confections follows teenager Verna Miller (played by Leslie Hope) who’s stuck in Winnipeg in the 1950s with an out-of-place progressive, funny and outspoken disposition. Verna dreams of thrilling travels, free love and obscure poetry but for now, at least, she’s stuck living with her Jewish family, hanging out with her boy-obsessed friends and the furthest she’s getting is high-school music camp in North Dakota.
The film is set during a cultural shift away from “so-called arranged marriages” to finding a partner on your own terms. The film explores the complexities of relationships between men and women in multiple contexts from the complexities of teenage boy-girl friendships to marriages. After finding no decent marriage prospect to fit both Verna and her parents’ fancy, she turns her focus to pretentious Oxford student, Martin Mannheim (played by Kyle McCulloch) who she sees as her ticket out of boring Winnipeg – her words, not mine!
The movie’s Winnipeg-raised writer/director Gail Singer won a Genie Award for the script which is inspired by a book that won the Leacock Medal for Humour in 1979 of the same name by artist and renowned Winnipeg-raised author, Sondra Gottlieb.
The film is quirky in its style, using tongue-in-cheek title cards to separate sequences. The titles include “hypocritic oath” and one of my favourites: “pearls before swine”, wherein the scene builds up to Verna rejecting a boy using a pearls before swine pun.
The surrealist sparks in the film offer funny insight into Verna’s world view which is extreme and comical. We see flashes of how Verna views the men in her life: as caricatures. These moments express Verna’s anxieties about a woman’s place and highlight the delightful one-dimensionality of the young male characters in the film.
Verna’s humour is more than a defence mechanism, it’s like a form of self-advocacy because as characters around her point out, her loud laugh and witty remarks are un-ladylike. Verna’s humour feels like an expression of her true self and inner world – kind of like a comedian. I just wish she’d been given more stage time. Perhaps some of the comedic influence of Singer’s protagonist came from another of her projects: the documentary, Wisecracks about female comics on and off stage that was nominated for a Genie Award the same year as True Confections.
True Confections is about Verna struggling to find herself while feeling stuck in her town, in her gender role, and in her age. But on top of that, this movie covers almost every social issue. The movie covers interracial relationships, systemic and casual antisemitism, abortion, class and more. It would have served the film and Verna’s journey to have cut out a few of the social commentaries to make more space for the viewer to appreciate how Verna’s relationships shaped her and helped her find herself. To make the ending more impactful, I would’ve liked to spend more time with Verna and her incredible, activist grandmother, her best friend Norma and her crush and James Dean look-alike, Kenny.
Although the movie could’ve been paced less sporadically and traded a couple of social issues for more jokes, it’s charming and as a young Jewess with a loudmouth, I see myself in Verna.
If you are younger, I recommend you view this film the way I did: with your Jewish mother who grew up in Winnipeg, so she can point out the city’s landmarks and local actors you don’t recognize – like the lawyer and international whistling champion, Harvey Pollack.
This movie has a lot of relevant themes, and like Winnipeg it’s got a lot of quirk and charm too – so, maybe it’s time for a remake?