Leslie, My Name is Evil

Reg Harkema’s Leslie My Name is Evil
Friday, June 25, 2010 at 9:00PM
Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 9:30PM
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 9:00PM
Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 9:00PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Reg Harkema, has fashioned an irreverent, caustic new film loosely based around the followers of the Charlie Manson trial. Perry, a sheltered chemical engineer, falls in love with Leslie, a former homecoming princess, when he is selected to be a jury member at her death cult murder trial. Perry has always done what is expected of him: he was a straight-A student who got a good job and proposed to his Christian girlfriend, Dorothy. Leslie took a different path after she was traumatized by Kennedy’s assassination, an abortion and the divorce of her parents. She took LSD, joined a hippie death cult and helped murder a God-fearing citizen in her own home. When Perry and Leslie lock eyes in court, Perry is forced to confront the darkest parts of him and by extension, society.

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From Uptown Magazine June 24, 2010

Rooted in history, not run by it
Leslie, My Name is Evil presents a heightened, stylized version of the Manson family trial

Real is good, interesting’s better, the great director Stanley Kubrick supposedly said. Kind of like this movie, which begins with historical fact but cheerfully sees no need to be bound by it.

Let’s unpack that a little. Every film based on true events exercises dramatic license, but Leslie, My Name is Evil explicitly bills itself as “loosely based” on the Charles Manson family trial. What director Reg Harkema has done is use the subject as a springboard for a more holistic satire of mid-20th century America.

The film features actual events from the trial, such as when Manson and his female followers shaved their heads mid-trial. On the other hand, it’s completely unconcerned with other details; it doesn’t even bother naming the famous prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, played here by Don McKellar.

That’s because the film isn’t meant to be a docudrama; using sound, music, editing, art direction, cinematography and performance, it instead creates its own heightened, stylized reality. The film echoes Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, although it plays at a lower volume.

The story is constructed along two parallel threads. Leslie (Kristin Hager), daughter of a ‘respectable’ middle-class family, is coerced into an abortion by her socially sensitive mother, who’s afraid of what people would think. The alienated Leslie drifts into the Manson family’s orbit, attracted by its fringe-dwelling, rebellious ways.

Meanwhile, the fresh-faced Perry (Gregory Smith), son of a devoutly fundamentalist Christian family, is selected as a jury member after the ‘family’ commits its famous crimes. His father proudly declared God intended his son to punish the devil himself. The idealistic Perry insists everyone deserves a fair trial.

It’s in court that Leslie and Perry’s eyes lock. She sees something in him. He vividly imagines seeing more of her; it helps that his fiancée insists on preserving their bodies for marriage. It doesn’t occur to Perry that his impure thoughts may compromise his impartiality.

The film is ultimately more concerned with Perry and his crises of faith, conscience, and desire. But by comparing the Manson cult and Perry’s ultra-conservative background, what’s juxtaposed are the extreme ends of the spectrum in then-contemporary American society.

After all, there’s little difference in various respects; the people occupying both ends are cult-like, self-righteous, with a shared lack of faith in social institutions. For Perry’s father, the trial is just a formality, really.

The film does perhaps push the overt symbolism a little hard, as with the giant American flag that provides one wall of the courtroom. Nonetheless, its visual esthetic is one of its virtues, with a truly arresting final image I’ll leave you to be disturbed by for yourself.

The other major strength is in the performances, with Hager and Smith both succeeding in earning our sympathy. I’ll conclude by mentioning Leslie, My Name is Evil is a Canadian film, by which I’m trying to say: yes, Canadian films can be good, despite what Alberta’s culture minister says. If you haven’t already, you should try one sometime.

– Kenton Smith

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~ by cineflyer on June 19, 2010.

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