Film Review: NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL (Canada 2017)

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Never Steady, Never Still Poster
A mother struggles to take control of her life in the face of advanced Parkinson’s disease, while her son battles his sexual and emotional identity amongst the violence of Alberta’s oil field work camps.


Kathleen Hepburn


NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL are the words that often describe the film’s protagonist’s debilitating disease, a sort of advanced stage of Parkinson’s.  She, Judy has a loving but discontent son – each alienated from their world and struggling to manage in the face of grief, guilt and chronic disease.  At one point in the film Judy (Shirley Henderson) is admired by a friend who describes the situation as ‘How can you be so strong to put up with all this shit?”

NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL is a family drama following a wife/mother, Judy, her loving husband (Nicholas Campbell) and son, Jamie.  Jamie gets a job reluctantly, in the oil fields, but is made fun off because of his scrawny figure.  Judy has to take her medication to keep her Parkinson’s under control, and even when she does, shakes uncontrollably.  Still, she is persistent, does her own shopping and dangerously drives her car.  The husband is not super healthy either and suffers a heart attack a third through the film.

Director Hepburn’s film is heartfelt.  It is really difficult to watch Judy suffer and the boy bullied.  One really feels for them and it will not be surprising that many of the suffering scenes will bring tears to many an audience’s eyes.

Hepburn is fond of keeping the audience on their toes with false alarms.  One scene has the son Jamie (Theodore Pellerin) doing cocaine in his room only to have a knocking at the door from his boss.  Jamie is just delivered a pay cheque.  More tense is the camera showing the car swerving side to side when Judy while driving, is suffering a Parkinson’s episode.  A cop stops her but sends her away with a caution.  And there are other false alarms.

Hepburn is also fond of using hand held camera instead of a mounting her camera on a tripod.  This can be seen in a few scenes that appear with a slightly moving frame.

The film has certain key incidents that affect the lives of both mother an son.  These appear at regular intervals and turns the film in another direction.  The result is good pacing and non-predictability of the story.

The film is also brilliantly shot, courtesy of D.P. Norm Li.  The water of the lake, the snow and ice and the flames of the oil fires all add to the excellent cinematography.

Hepburn also ensures her audience can effectively follow the story.  She gives a summary of the film at mid-point when Jamie explains over the telephone what has happened and how he feels at work, at home and with his mother.

The film is an expansion of Hepburn’s earlier short film of the same title, which had different actors.

NEVER STEADY NEVER STILL shows Hepburn an assured and apt writer and director.  At the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival, the film won three juried awards.  Currently the film has received eight Canadian Screen Award nominations at the 6th Canadian Screen Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Henderson), Best Screenplay (Hepburn), Best Cinematography (Norm Li), Best Art Direction/Production Design (Sophie Jarvis and Elizabeth Cairns), Best Sound (Matt Drake, Nate Evans and Christopher O’Brien), Best Editing (Simone Smith) and Best Original Score (Ben Fox).

(Interviews with director and editor are available online.)


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