CARDINALS is a thoroughly enjoyable dry comedy/suspense drama written by Grayson Moore and and directed by him and Aidan Shipley, both Toronto’s Ryerson University graduates. It stars Sheila McCarthy who is always ever so good in movies like these, since she shot to fame in Patricia Rozema’s I’VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING. McCarthy plays a mother, Valerie just out of prison from a drunken driving crime that killed her neighbour. She is so good in CARDINALS that one cannot get enough of her.
The film is a bit disorienting. For many a segment, it begins blurry with the audience not knowing what is going on. For example, one scene starts with two women talking in a car before it is revealed that they are Valerie’s two daughters. Another begins with a male visiting Valerie’s house before the male is revealed to be Valerie’s husband. Moore’s script requires the audience to concentrate on the film, often providing surprises that titillate the senses. It is recommended that the film be watched in its entirety in a cinema or if watched at home, without any interruptions. The flow of the film’s narrative should not be interrupted.
One has to love the dialogue. Wants what’s best for your mother. Not so easy when your mother is just out of prison. Example is the daughter to mother conversation when Valerie is just out of prison and the daughter wants the mother to make a few friends again. “Did she suggest going out or did you?” “She called and asked when you were coming out.” “Then she suggested.” “How do you know I want to see her?” Valerie is smart talking all the way and knows what she wants, likely that she had a decade in prison to plan what she was going to do when she got out.
As if the film is not without sufficient surprises (a good thing of course), the directors insert a spring swan parade that Valerie attends out of the blue. Apart for the weird exhibits and odd swan hats and attire, the attendees wear it is snowing in the open. These quirky and other highly original scenes distinguish and make Moore and Shipley’s film their own, creating a unique personality that is impossible to copy.
The role of Valerie’s parole officer is brilliantly written. Though he is shown as a kind of asshole, he does make valid points and observations contributing to the story. All this is evident in the scene where he mediates a meeting between Valerie and (Noah Reid), the son of the man Valerie ran over.
As the film goes on, it becomes apparent all the incidents are not what they seem. A flashback shows Valerie opening a bottle in the car to have a drink after she had hit the neighbour. She enquires if her friend, Wendy who worked at the plant told the reason she had left weeks after Valerie went to prison. Something is afoot and directors Moore and Shiokey piques the interest of the audience like a true Hitchcock suspensor.
CARDINALS remains one of the quirkily films Canadian directors used to churn out in the 80’s like Atom Agoyan, Patricia Rozema, Guy Madden and others. One can hardly wait to see Moore and Shipley’s next project. And stay for the closing credits to listen to the sweet little creepy song.