I don’t know how in good faith I can call myself a movie lover if I’ve never been to TIFF up until now. Every summer, I vow to carefully research the upcoming movies, consider which ones are generating awards season buzz and diligently get in the line for a ticket well in advance of the on-sale time.
Reality: in early September, I suddenly see an ad for TIFF, remember that it’s happening and haphazardly check what’s available on the horrendously counter-intuitive website (seriously TIFF, it’s 2019 – your website should not be this terrible). Seeing as how I am tragically not an industry insider, any popular movies are sold out long before people like me can buy tickets (looking at you, Joker).
But I committed to finally going this year and conveniently have a friend who, unlike me, had actually done her research. She sent me her list of movies and I randomly picked A Bump Along The Way. All I knew was that it was an Irish movie about a mother/daughter relationship and that a pregnancy was part of the storyline. Good enough.
The bold and funny opening scene introduces us to the main character, the fun-loving Pamela, celebrating her 44th birthday in the company of a much younger gentleman, Barry — in his work truck no less (you go girl). We next see Pamela nursing her hangover while her uptight, vegan daughter Allegra gets ready for school, scolding her mother about her dysfunctional state.
What first struck me about this movie was that everyone looked refreshingly… normal. Pamela had the body type of the average mom, wasn’t conventional-Hollywood attractive and even (gasp) had wrinkles. Allegra and her classmates all looked fresh-faced and natural, without the elaborate hairstyles and makeup so commonly seen on actors who play high school students.
I’m not sure if this is simply how Irish movies are done, or whether this is a byproduct of having a female director who understands what real women look like; but nonetheless, I appreciated the casting.
We learn that Pamela, against all odds, has become pregnant by Barry, sparking a journey for both Pamela and Allegra as they come to terms with this new change in circumstance. As the movie unfolds, we learn that while being outwardly polar opposites, they each grapple with an inability to stand up for themselves.
Pamela works at an adorable bakery and gets along with everyone – almost to a fault. In her conversations with Barry about the pregnancy and Allegra’s dad about paying his share of child support, both men respond with aggressive dismissiveness and Pamela chooses to take the ‘high road’ by not engaging in an argument. In a conversation with her friend Sinead (you obviously can’t have an Irish movie without someone being named Sinead), Pamela says it’s not in her to take Allegra’s dad to court for the payment.
Unbeknownst to Pamela, Allegra has inherited her mother’s pushover ways and is grappling with bullying by her classmates. On paper, Allegra’s storyline in this movie sounds incredibly cliché: bullying, a crush on a boy who chooses her friend instead; ignoring her lifelong friend to hang out with the ‘cool kids’; constant bickering with her mother and a misplaced high regard for her dad.
But this movie explores these normal teenager issues with a thoughtfulness and nuance that leaves viewers both frustrated with and sympathetic to Allegra. Who hasn’t felt like an outsider at school and snapped up the first opportunity for social acceptance? Who among us hasn’t snapped at our mom and said regrettable things? It feels incredibly true to life and I again feel that this is reflective of a female director who has experienced these moments firsthand.
The movie also cleverly incorporates the realities of social media without being overly contrived; in one scene, an unflattering photo of Allegra is sent around to Allegra’s classmates. But it never feels like a cheesy after-school special and the movie doesn’t fall into the trap of blaming social media for all the problems of today. There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than a forced scene with someone talking about Facebook in an effort to make the movie seem modern.
It’s this fateful photo that causes Allegra’s teacher to call Pamela and advise her about Allegra being bullied. It then dawns on Pamela that Allegra has witnessed Pamela’s passivity all her life, causing her to react in the same way towards her own problems. Pamela realizes that to set a better example, she needs to be more assertive and develops a newfound confidence. It’s one thing to decide that you won’t be assertive for yourself, but I suppose it’s quite another to realize that your behaviour is impacting how your children cope with their problems.
A Bump Along The Way is a breath of fresh air that makes you think, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously as a movie. With its Lady Bird-esque feel, it’s relatable for all viewers, regardless of gender, age or parental status (though if the person you most relate to is Barry, you may need to have a talk with yourself). It’s the mark of good storytelling that I, despite being neither a teenager, nor a mother, nor in my 40’s, was able to relate to so many elements of the movie and the characters’ challenges.
Gorgeously shot in Northern Ireland, the movie perfectly highlights the complexity of the relationships we have with one another and how we eventually make our way back to those who love us most. With positive reviews and a round of applause from the TIFF audience, Shelly Love has a lot to be proud of in her directorial debut.