THE RIVER YOU STEP IN (Jon Michaelson). 100 minutes. Screens Wednesday (October 16) at the Royal Cinema, then Thursday to Monday (October 17 to 21) at the Grand Gerrard Theatre. See listing. Rating: NNN
Come From Away’s Astrid Van Wieren anchors this ensemble drama set in Toronto’s east end. She plays Stevie, a social worker so committed to her pet causes – recovering addicts and ex-convicts – that she’s willing to put them up in her own home.
Leslieville and Riverside are characters in all this. The film’s title hints at how the area has changed. Older residents are either priced out or pushed to the margins as gentrification over the last 20 years made room for yuppies and artist types. Full disclosure: I am part of that gentrification.
The River You Step In feels made by the artist types. The marginalized characters are too thin and carefully sanitized to be written by marginalized people. That’s all fine, because the film takes its cues and perspective from the white do-gooder at its centre.
Throughout the film, Stevie helps out the aforementioned ex-con and recovering addict as well as a woman living in an abusive relationship. All the while she’s racked with guilt over an Indigenous woman she couldn’t help who died in police custody.
Stevie seems driven by an uneasy combination of charity, white-knighting and white guilt. The film’s smartest decision is to put her contradictions out there and leave us wondering.