Canadian Must-Sees: Roadkill

No. 1 Canadian Must-See: Bruce McDonald and Don McKellar made Canadian history with this subversive story that pays vague homage to Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle, Hinterland Who’s Who and the Canadian Shield

ROADKILL, also known as MOVE OR DIE (1989)

 

4/5

Directed by Bruce McDonald Starring Valerie Buhagiar, Gerry Quigley, Larry Hudson, Bruce McDonald, Don McKellar, Shaun Bowring, Joey Ramone. Running time: 80 minutes. MPAA Rating: PG-13

Shot in grainy black and white, this satirical look at all things Canadian opens with a spoof of the Canadian wildlife service’s ubiquitous Hinterland Who’s Who film reels that featured 60-second vignettes on different animal species — and a very melancholy flute line. The first thing we see is the furry face of a “northern cotton-tailed rabbit” twitching his cute little bunny nose, followed by the ominous sound of screeching tires and a honkin’ huge internal combustion engine. Valerie Bughiar stars as Ramona, a lowly intern for a slimy, pony-tailed rock promoter. When the booker can’t reach his band, The Children of Paradise, he sends Ramona out to find them in the wilds of northern Ontario. As Ramona begins her adventure along the Canadian Shield, she notes the “trees are getting smaller and rocks are cropping up everywhere… I have the feeling a different set of rules apply up here.” The words prove prophetic. Ramona ends up at a gas station and discovers the wayward band in their Winnebago. She befriends the director (played by McDonald himself), who says “I want to make a movie about real life.” Soon, the unadventurous Ramona turns into a wild woman behind the wheel as she and a cast of kooky Canadians tear up the highway. The object of the band’s quest is to find the missing lead singer, Matthew, who disappeared without a trace, but like all road movies — and trips into hearts of darkness — there is something much larger going on beneath the surface. All these characters are in the process of self-realization. For Ramona, it’s all about self-empowerment and learning to speak up for herself. For someone like Russell, a wannabe serial killer played by McKellar, it’s all about realizing his “American Dream” of being a wanted criminal. Packed with hook-laden Canadian music from the likes of the Cowboy Junkies and Nash the Slash, and perpetually tongue-in-cheek, Roadkill was the first film to flush the institutional mentality out of English-Canadian cinema and became the starting point in a continuing revelation of the Canadian self. 

– Katherine Monk

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