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Never Steady, Never Still review – tough sledding in the snows of Alberta

The Guardian logo The Guardian 20/04/2018 Peter Bradshaw

This is a sincerely intended drama from Canadian writer-director Kathleen Hepburn, and it was a prizewinner on its home turf, but I have to admit to finding it tough sledding. It is plaintive and subdued, with a dual narrative focus that is not as satisfyingly developed or resolved as it might be.

Judy, played by Shirley Henderson, lives near the oilfields of Alberta and has Parkinson’s. She has a supportive if withdrawn husband, Ed (Nicholas Campbell), though she seems also to have an emotional connection with her neighbour Lenny (Lorne Cardinal). Judy is worried and protective about her aimless teen son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin) who, quite aside from worrying about his mother, has his own issues with sexuality and identity, and who occupies half the film’s narrative space. (The feature was developed from an earlier short that was more centred on Jamie.) In the end, I got the feeling I hadn’t quite found out enough about either Jamie or Judy.

Watch the trailer for Never Steady, Never Still

The movie comes most alive in Judy’s Parkinson’s therapy group scenes, which have a wit and punch that the rest of the film lacks. There is a terrific exchange in which an older woman fiercely tells the group how annoyed she was when out shopping for socks for her husband, when her wobbly legs would suddenly fail to move at her bidding and she would be stuck making conversation with the town bore.

There are some heartfelt moments, but this is an opaque and frustrating experience.

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