Canada’s racial tensions feed this family melodrama

Film Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Trouble in the Garden
Roxy Theatre

Opens Friday 8
3 out of 5

Racial tensions between First Nations and colonizers have gone surprisingly unexplored in Canadian cinema. I’m not talking about the unspeakable horrors of residential schools, but every day, casual racism — the kind you find in the comment section of any news article involving Indigenous people, or The Rebel’s Twitter feed.

Writer/director Rosamund Owen’s Trouble in the Garden ventures into this territory and gets a lot of traction. In classic first feature fashion, the film, at times, is too precious and the dialogue stilted. But it taps into the righteous anger of Indigenous people over broken promises and the reality that good intentions, without legitimate follow-up action, don’t hold much meaning.

The family drama revolves around Pippa (Cara Gee, Empire of Dirt) and Colin (Jon Cor). While protesting against a residential development in unceded Indigenous territory, Pippa gets arrested for disorderly conduct. Colin, a real estate agent, pays her bail and offers his place for Pippa’s temporary house arrest.

Slowly, we get some clarity about their relationship. Pippa was adopted by Colin’s parents, but was disowned under murky circumstances. The step-siblings have followed wildly different paths. She’s a hardcore activist for Indigenous and environmental causes. He sells houses on stolen land. In spite of it all, they are relatively friendly to each other. That is, until they unwittingly start interfering in each other’s lives.

As with any meaty family drama, skeletons in the closet abound. Pippa’s militancy comes into focus when it’s revealed she’s a survivor of the Scoop, where Indigenous children were removed from their families and placed in non-Indigenous homes. Colin, meanwhile, finds it increasingly hard to walk the line between concerned family man and ruthless capitalist.

Even for a film that operates in broad strokes (Colin’s wife and daughter are implausibly blonde; Pippa would rather be called Raven), eventually Owen overplays her hand. Pippa’s step-dad is cartoonishly evil, and with one gesture at the end eviscerates the film’s authenticity. It’s unfortunate, considering how much good will the movie had amassed until that point.

Sensibly, Trouble in the Garden stops short of providing any lasting resolution — whether we’re talking about family or country, there’s never a clean ending. Just stages.