Most Coming-of-Age movies focus on the so-called “universal teenage experience”. But, while some aspects of growing up are conventional, adolescence itself crafts a unique narrative of our lives that defines one’s individuality. Writer/Director Jean-Pierre Bergeron challenged the hegemony of the familiar Coming-of-Age fables with the story of a young boy secretly in love with an older male in his debut film Alone with Mr.Carter.
Expressing same-sex interest towards an older male is often considered to be the ultimate taboo — an unthinkable state of mind that is punished as deviance when detected. That is probably why, when watching the story of the young John (played by the Canadian actor Robert Naylor ) gathering the courage to admit his feelings toward Mr.Carter (Paul James Saunders), one feels just as nervous as the boy — who is anxious about the reaction of a heterosexual man (Mr.Carter’s girlfriend is prominent in the story).
Robert Naylor and Paul James Saunders in Alone with Mr. Carter
Photo credit Chris Kralik/KEYSTONE Press
I enjoyed the comedy nuances of the story, as they made the film more entertaining by effectively breaking up the tension. The script cleverly avoids the clichés typically associated with coming out stories and the first person narration enhanced the feeling of intimacy so that the story felt like a personal confession. In an interview during one of the festival screenings of the film, Director Bergeron confirmed that the story of Alone with Mr. Carter is semi-autobiographical, which could explain why the screenplay is so poignant and compelling.
Aside from its original plot, the film owns much of its appeal to the incredible acting performance of Robert Naylor, who portrayed his character with an emotional intensity that never feels stilted or forced. I was already aware of Robert’s ability to portray emotions from his role as a troubled child in Daniel Grou’s film 10 1/2 .
While the emotions of his character in Alone with Mr. Carter significantly differ from the constant anguish and anger of his character in 10 1/2, Robert’s naturalistic portrayal of a gay youth’s internal conflicts is top-notch. On the other hand, I must say that I am a bit disappointed with the actors who portrayed John’s parents. But their role in his life seemed intentionally marginalized, which could be the explanation of why their performance felt a bit flat.
Paul James Saunders did a credible job as Mr.Carter, but it was Claudia Ferri in the role of Mr.Carter’s high-strung girlfriend Lucilla who’s electrifying performance contrasted sharply with the internal turmoil of John and her partner.
A movie about ‘the love that dear not speak its name’, Alone with Mr. Carter is a film that I don’t hesitate to recommend highly. While the subject matter could be perceived as highly controversial by some audiences, I would assure you that the story is presented in a honest non exploitive manner, which makes it suitable for viewers of all ages. And, as in all Coming-of-Age stories, there is a lesson to be learned.