Review: ‘Rare Beasts,’ starring Billie Piper, Lily James and David Thewlis

September 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jolyon Coy, Leo Bill and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts”

Directed by Billie Piper

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and in the Spanish city of Girona, the dark comedy film “Rare Beasts” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single mother in London navigates her way through the dating scene and family relationships with cynicism and hope. 

Culture Audience: “Rare Beasts” will appeal primarily to people who can tolerate foul-mouthed and offbeat comedy about love and romance.

Toby Woolf and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts” tries a little too hard to be the opposite of a typical romantic comedy, but its brazen and often-vulgar attempts at being original end up working well for the story, more often than not. The movie is a memorable showcase for Billie Piper, who is the writer, director and star of “Rare Beasts,” which offers a deeply jaded and brash take on love, dating and family relationships. The tone and language of the movie can be very off-putting to people who want safer and more conventional romantic comedies. But for viewers who are a little more adventurous and who don’t mind watching very unhappy people trying to find love any way that they can (even if the love is all wrong for them), then “Rare Beasts” is a deliberately squirm-inducing ride.

In “Rare Beasts” (which is Piper’s feature-film directorial debut), Piper obliterates the notion that comedic heroines who are looking for love have to be perky and plucky people-pleasers. Piper’s Mandy character, who lives in London, is depressive and often rude. Mandy vacillates between wanting to be independent and wanting to admit she’s looking for a man help her feel more fulfilled. She doesn’t think that “feminism” is a dirty word, but she also thinks that feminism shouldn’t mean that men and women don’t need each other.

Mandy is a single mother to a son named Larch (played by Toby Woolf), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. He’s an eccentric loner child with some emotional issues because he’s prone to randomly throw temper tantrums. The movie infers that Larch is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Mandy adores Larch, but because she’s not a typical rom-com single mother, she sometimes acts as if she’s embarrassed or burdened by being a single mother because her parental responsibilities can get in the way of her love life. Larch’s father (who is shown briefly later in the movie) is an ex-lover who is not involved in raising Larch because Mandy never told this man that Larch is his son.

The opening scene of “Rare Beasts” sets the tone of what type of movie it is, because almost all the adult main characters in the movie are so forthright with their crassness. Some might call it “brutal honesty,” while others might call it “diarrhea of the mouth.” In this opening scene, Mandy is on a first date with a bespectacled misogynist named Pete (played by Leo Bill), who reveals a lot of his insecurities while Pete and Mandy (who are both in their late 30s) have dinner at a restaurant.

Pete begins his rant by saying, “I find women, in the main, intolerable. But I realize that I can’t live without them. My parents—it’s hard to find a love like that.” Viewers later find out that Pete’s parents have been married for about 45 years. Pete and his family have very conservative and traditional views of love and marriage, including believing that the man should always be the dominant partner in heterosexual relationships.

Right from the start, viewers know that Pete and Mandy will be a mismatch for each other. Pete mentions that he’s very religious, while Mandy says that she’s an atheist. Mandy also tells him on this first date: “In the spirit of honesty, Pete, you should know I give really bad blowjobs.” Then they talk about the use of teeth and gums during oral sex. Mandy says sarcastically, “Do you want teeth by day, gums by night?”

Pete then complains about modern, assertive women by saying, “You’ve got more testosterone running in your veins than blood!” Mandy is alarmed (or is amused?) by Pete’s blantant sexism and replies, “You’re going to rape me, aren’t you? Those are classic rapist remarks.”

The date ends shortly after this thorny conversation. While waiting for a taxi outside the restaurant, Mandy vomits on the street. Even though this date is a disaster, Pete says to Mandy: “You’ll marry me in a year.”

And just as you might expect in a comedy that aims to upend people’s assumptions, Mandy and Pete begin dating each other. And how’s this for potentially messy? Pete and Mandy work together. They’re both screenwriters for an unnamed TV series.

Viewers might be asking themselves, “What are these two people thinking by going into a train-wreck relationship? Are Mandy and Pete that lonely and desperate?” As the unlikely romance between Mandy and Pete continues, the answer is: “Yes, people can make bad relationship choices when they’re lonely and desperate.” You don’t need a movie to show it, because there are many examples of it in real life.

Essentially, Pete is up front from the start that he’s on the hunt for a dutiful wife. Mandy has gotten tired of being a single parent and wonders if her son would be better off if he had a father figure to help Mandy in raising Larch. Mandy and Pete both came along in each other’s lives when they felt they didn’t have any better options for a love partner. And now they’re in a relationship that could lead to marriage. Pete and Mandy predictably argue, because their core values are so fundamentally different from each other.

There are other big reasons why Mandy is in this relationship with Pete, but she doesn’t say it out loud. However, it’s all on display in the movie. First, her mother Marion (played by Kerry Fox), who’s a bitter, chain-smoking divorcée, lives with Mandy and Larch in a very cramped house. It’s obvious from Mandy and Marion’s interactions with each other that they have a love/hate relationship. Mandy is probably thinking that getting married would be the perfect reason to force her mother to live elsewhere, without Mandy being the “villain” to kick her mother out of the house.

Secondly, Mandy is unhappy in her job, which is a male-dominated company called Woo Productions. The details of the TV show she writes for are never really made clear in this movie. But based on conversations, it’s a TV show about women, and it has a mostly female audience. However, the people who run the show are men.

It’s implied that Pete makes a lot more money than Mandy in this job, although they both seem to have the same or similar job titles and duties. It’s probably gone through Mandy’s head more than a few times how she can afford to leave this job that she hates when she is the only breadwinner for her household. (Mandy’s mother Marion is retired. )The fact of the matter is that many people consider a partner’s income as one of many important reasons to get married to that person. Pretending that people don’t think this way is like living in a fantasy world.

Mandy’s boss is a sexist American named Leonardo (played by Trevor White), who gives this type of critique about how she writes screenplays: “Nobody wants to read about miserable women, because they don’t exist.” He also scolds and warns Mandy by saying that she could be close to getting fired: “No more late arrivals, no more sad women, no more miserable conduct.” Meanwhile, it’s shown that Pete can be late for a staff meeting, and he doesn’t get reprimanded by the boss.

In staff meetings, Mandy and her few female co-workers are frequently talked over and treated dismissively by their male co-workers, who think they know better than the women about how women think, feel and act. The disagreements sometimes spill over into arguments between the men and women, but since they all have a sexist male boss at this company, it’s easy to know whose side he takes in these arguments. In real life, Piper has been a star and an executive producer for the female-oriented TV series “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (which was on the air from 2007 to 2011) and “I Hate Suzie” (which debuted in 2020), so she knows more than a few things about the gender dynamics of TV creatives behind the scenes.

Underneath the crude conversations that many of the characters have in the movie is some snarky social commentary about women’s self-esteem and how—like it or not—many people in society place a woman’s worth on her marital status or who she’s dating. Mandy’s mother Marion is the type of outspoken, “no filter” person to blurt out to Mandy when they talk about their sex lives: “I’ve never used a condom!” Mandy’s sarcastic reply: “You should probably get tested.” And yet, Marion is still treated like a selfish homewrecker by her ex-husband Vic (played by David Thewlis) because Marion wanted to end their miserable marriage. Vic is an alcoholic who cheated on Marion when they were married.

During parts of the movie, Vic (who lives alone) tries to convince Marion to move back in with him, even though their marriage has been over for six years. Vic alternately tries to put Marion on a guilt trip and gives her phony flattery, by saying that living with him again is the least she can to do help him live longer because she’s better at certain domestic duties (such as cooking and cleaning) than he is. He even goes as far to suggest to Marion that it’s not a good look to be a woman of a certain age who isn’t living with a man. It’s pathetic emotional manipulation that doesn’t work. Marion and Mandy might not always have the best relationship, but they both agree that Vic is too toxic to really trust.

During the course of the movie, there are some “Greek chorus” type scenes of female passersby on the street who chant self-affirming mantras out loud, as if Mandy (and the viewers by extension) can hear their thoughts. It’s the movie’s way of saying that everyday people are wracked with insecurities, but women have to work harder to overcome self-doubt because men are more likely than women to be rewarded for being confident. Later in the movie, during a pivotal scene, Mandy has a soul-baring monologue on the street, and several female strangers congregate and react to what Mandy says.

“Rare Beasts” pokes fun at two rom-com clichés involving a couple who’s dating: the “meet the parents/family” scenario and the “guests at a wedding” scenario. Mandy meets Pete’s family (his parents and three sisters) over a predictably awkward dinner at the parents’ house. During this dinner, one of Pete’s secrets is revealed, and he shows a very nasty side to himself when he lashes out in anger. This scene also re-affirms that Mandy would not fit in well with this very religious and conservative family.

The wedding scene, which takes place in Spain, is more amusing. Pete’s family is a friend of the bride. The bride Cressida (played by Lily James) and the groom Woody (played by Jolyon Coy) are a blissfully happy but shallow couple. (James shares top billing in “Rare Beasts,” but she’s only in the movie for less than 10 minutes.) When Woody is introduced to Pete, Woody says to Mandy, “I hope his penis is as big as his heart!” Meanwhile, Cressida is preoccupied with how the wedding photos will look, and she describes her relationship with Woody as “our brand.”

In contrast to Cressida and Woody’s happiness, Mandy and Pete end up arguing when Pete finds out that Larch’s father Matthew (played by Ben Dilloway) is at the wedding too. It’s a sheer coincidence that Matthew is there. (It’s a big wedding and stranger coincidences have happened in real life.) And even though Matthew is not in Mandy’s and Larch’s lives, Pete (who likes to be the “alpha male”) still feels threatened when he sees that Matthew is better-looking and more self-assured than Pete is.

As unlikable as Pete can be, Mandy is no angel either. She likes to do cocaine at parties. She sometimes acts like she wishes she didn’t have the responsibility of parenthood. (But she’s never cruel to Larch.) And she can be a bit of a whiner who feels very jealous of others when she thinks their lives are going better than hers.

Piper’s directing style for “Rare Beasts” is to present a world where politeness isn’t really considered a virtue. People just regurgitate whatever is on their minds without thinking too much about hurting other people’s feelings or embarrassing themselves. (A perfect example is the scene where Mandy and Pete have sex with each other for the first time.) The tone is snappy, and some of the jokes don’t land very well, but viewers will get the sense that this movie was made by people who are fed up with boring rom-com tropes.

None of the adult characters in this movie has a “cute personality,” even though having a “cute personality” is an expected cliché in a romantic comedy. Piper and the movie’s other principal actors commit to all the unpleasant personality traits of their “Rare Beasts” characters. It’s a consistency that should be admired under Piper’s direction, when too often filmmakers might cave in to pressure to create more “likable” characters in order to make a romantic comedy appealing to the masses.

However, “Rare Beasts” is not a heartless film. Even in this crude and tactless world of “Rare Beasts,” people still want to be loved and respected. Some of them, such as Mandy and Pete, have terrible ways of going about it. The people who will dislike “Rare Beasts” the most will probably be those who expect British romantic comedies to be a certain way that isn’t delivered in this movie. This a very British film, to be sure, but it’s the equivalent of a cup of tea served with a lot of pepper and vinegar.

Brainstorm Media released “Rare Beasts” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 20, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 21, 2021.

Review: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things,’ starring Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis

September 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (Photo by Mary Cybulski/Netflix)

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

Directed by Charlie Kaufman

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of the U.S., the drama “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” has an all-white cast representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man and a woman, who have been dating each other for six weeks, go on a road trip to meet his parents, but the trip turns out to be more than meets the eye, as they experience arguments, family conflicts and secrets from the past.

Culture Audience: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s unconventional style of filmmaking.

Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (Photo by Mary Cybulski/Netflix)

People who aren’t familiar with the work of writer/director Charlie Kaufman won’t be fully prepared for the eccentric head trip that is his dramatic film “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” Kaufman won an Oscar for co-writing the original screenplay for 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (which is probably his most famous movie), and he wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplays for 1999’s “Being John Malkovich” and 2002’s “Adaptation.” He also wrote and directed the 2014 animated film “Anomalisa” and 2008’s “Synecdoche, New York.” What all of these movies have in common is that they defy convention and are often about characters that spend a lot of time inside their heads. People who hate Kaufman’s movies usually think the movies are too weird.

Therefore, anyone who watches “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (which Kaufman adapted from Iain Reid’s novel of the same name) should know in advance that it won’t be a story told in a straightforward way, and people are doing to say and do things in a bizarre manner. The movie starts out by giving the impression that it’s going to be told from the perspective of one character, but then it ends up being the story of another character. In other words, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” can only be recommended to people who are up for a ride that isn’t really supposed to be logical but it’s more about conveying atmosphere, capturing moods and presenting themes in an often-abstract way.

The foundation of the story is a road trip during heavy snowfall that could turn into a storm. Jake (played by Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend (played by Jessie Buckley) are an American couple who are both in their late 20s. Jake is driving them to his parents’ farmhouse, where his girlfriend will be meeting his parents for the first time. Jake and his girlfriend have been dating each other for about six weeks. They plan to have dinner with Jake’s parents before leaving to go back on the road that night, since his girlfriend has to get up early the next morning for work.

The girlfriend doesn’t officially have a name in the story, but throughout the movie, she is called different names that start with the letter “L” (such as Louisa, Lucia and Lucy), which is bound to confuse people watching this film. And, at different times in the movie, she is described as having different professions, such as artist painter, gerontology student or waitress. The parents don’t have names either, but Jake’s mother (played by Toni Collette) is American, while Jake’s father (played by David Thewlis) is British. The movie also doesn’t mention where in the United States this story takes place.

Before, during and after this dinner, Jake’s girlfriend contemplates the pros and cons of staying in this relationship with Jake. Her inner thoughts are heard in voiceover narration. And throughout the movie, she keeps repeating “I’m thinking of ending things,” every time she mulls over whether it’s better to break up with Jake before the relationship turns bad or if it’s worth sticking with him to see if things will improve between them. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Jake is more infatuated with his girlfriend than she is with him.

She’s already starting to doubt that they’re compatible, and she figures that meeting his parents will give her a better idea what kind of family she’ll have to deal with if her relationship with Jake becomes more serious. She says in one of her inner thoughts, “Jake’s not going anywhere. People tend to stay in relationships past their expiration date.”

While driving to the farmhouse, the girlfriend thinks, “I should be more excited, but I’m not.” On the other hand, she admits to herself why she would want to stay in this relationship with Jake: “It feels like I’ve known Jake longer than I have … We have a very real connection.”

During the ride, Jake and his girlfriend talk mostly about music and poetry. She is surprised to find out that Jake is a big fan of musical theater, and “Oklahoma!” is his favorite musical. (There are several references to the “Oklahoma!” musical in this movie.) Jake also mentions poet William Wordsworth and his “Lucy” poems. When his girlfriend recites a poem that she wrote, Jake assumes he was the inspiration for that poem, and she’s annoyed by the assumption. Jake comments, “That’s why I like road trips. It’s good to remind you that the world is bigger than outside your head.”

Jake seems nervous about his girlfriend meeting his parents. When Jake and his girlfriend arrive at their destination, he insists on giving her a short tour of the property before heading into the main house. They go to a barn, where a few sheep have frozen to death. The girlfriend is slightly horrified, but Jake nonchalantly says that the sheep’s bodies are too frozen to move and the bodies will be moved when the bodies become naturally thawed out. Jake also mentioned that the pig sty in the barn was where a pig was found being eaten alive by maggots. Life can be cruel on a farm, Jake says.

Inside the house, Jake’s parents don’t appear right away. Jake’s girlfriend looks uncomfortable until she sees the family’s friendly Border Collie, because she likes dogs. She also notices that the basement door has dark scratch marks all the way up to the top of the door. When she asks Jake what caused those scratches, he says it was the dog, but that answer isn’t believable at all, because the dog wouldn’t be able to reach that high. Jake also says, “I hate the basement.” The secret of the basement is revealed in bits and pieces during the rest of the movie.

And viewers soon see why Jake was so nervous about his girlfriend meeting his parents. When Jake’s parents finally appear, they start out as very friendly and effusive to his girlfriend. But as they sit down for dinner, his parents say inappropriate things and at times act mentally unbalanced. His mother cackles and snorts loudly at the wrong moments and at her own jokes that only she thinks are funny. Jake’s father is overly critical and thinks he is always correct.

For example, Jake’s girlfriend mentions that she is an artist who likes to paint landscape portraits. She shows Jake’s parents some photos of her paintings that are on her phone. When she mentions that she hopes to convey certain emotions with these paintings, Jake’s father vehemently disagrees and tells her that the only way emotions can be expressed in a painting is by having a human being in the painting. Jake’s girlfriend shares her opposite point of view, but out of politeness she chooses not to get into an argument with Jake’s father about it.

Meanwhile, Jake’s parents are very argumentative with each other. Jake tries to hold back and not get involved in taking sides, but at one point he snaps and tells his parents to stop being so obnoxious. The more time that Jake’s girlfriend spends at the family home, the more she sees that Jake has had long-simmering tensions with his parents that seem to go all the way back to Jake’s childhood.

One of the recurring themes of the movie is that Jake’s girlfriend is anxious to go back home, but Jake keeps thinking of reasons to delay this return trip. Meanwhile, the snowfall outside is getting worse and Jake’s girlfriend doesn’t want to be stuck in a snowstorm. Jake and his girlfriend get into arguments that start to escalate.

While some of this relationship drama is going on, the movie cuts back and forth between scenes of an elderly janitor (played by Guy Boyd), who works at a high school. (The janitor’s relevance to the rest of the story is explained later, but not in a straightforward manner.) There are also various choreographed dance scenes from “Oklahoma!” and other musical numbers at the high school and elsewhere. Jake breaks out into song at one point in the movie. And there are scenes involving diners and waitresses that won’t make much sense until toward the end of the film.

In one of these scenes, the janitor watches a movie on a TV monitor at the high school where he works. The movie he’s watching is of a man surprising his waitress girlfriend at the diner with an elaborate show of adoration, but it’s disruptive to the customers, and she ends up getting fired. The movie that the janitor is watching then cuts to the end credits to show that it was directed by Robert Zemeckis. It’s an example of the type of quirky comedic touches in the story that are best appreciated by movie aficionados who might get some inside jokes.

Even if people find this movie’s storyline hard to take, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is still compelling to watch for the performances by the main actors in the cast. Collette is wonderfully unhinged as Jake’s mother, while Buckley gives some impressive monologues during the movie. Plemons’ Jake character is the most complex because it’s hinted at throughout the story that he has some secrets hidden underneath his mild-mannered exterior. Thewlis plays a self-righteous and arrogant character as Jake’s father, but he’s never boring to watch.

At 134 minutes, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a little too long and could have used some fine-tuning in its editing. The movie is actually written and structured more like a play than a traditional narrative film. But it’s the kind of movie that, if people like it enough, it’s probably better experienced after a repeat watching, to pick up on things that might have been missed on the first viewing. However, “I’m a Thinking of Ending Things” is a perfect example of why Kaufman’s filmmaking is definitely an acquired taste and not everyone will want to go back for a second helping.

Netflix premiered “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” on September 4, 2020.

Review: ‘Guest of Honour,’ starring David Thewlis, Laysla De Oliveira, Rossif Sutherland, Arsinée Khanjian and Luke Wilson

July 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Thewlis in “Guest of Honour” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Guest of Honour”

Directed by Atom Egoyan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada, the dramatic film “Guest of Honour” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who spent time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit attempts to reconcile with her past and her family secrets when she meets with a priest about her father’s funeral.

Culture Audience: “Guest of Honour” will appeal primarily to people who like arthouse psychological dramas that are slow-moving and where people act illogically.

Luke Wilson and Laysla De Oliveira in “Guest of Honour” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

The movie “Guest of Honour” (written and directed by Atom Egoyan) presents itself as a psychologically driven drama that’s supposed to unravel a family mystery, but the only mystery that viewers will be faced with is whether or not it’s worth their time to slog through this convoluted and often-dull film. Although the movie is anchored by an interesting and somewhat complex performance by David Thewlis, ultimately it falls short in how the characters are developed and how sluggish and illogical the story ends up being in many ways.

“Guest of Honour” begins with a woman in her late 20s who is meeting with a priest at a church, in order to make arrangements for her widower father’s funeral. She has never met this priest before, but she’s there because it was her father’s dying wish to have his funeral service conducted by the priest at this church. The woman’s name is Veronica Davis (played by Laysla De Oliveria), and the priest’s name is Father Greg (played by Luke Wilson). Veronica starts to tell Father Greg not only her life story but also what her father Jim Davis (played by Thewlis) was like when Veronica knew him.

And apparently, Father Greg has enough time on his hands to listen, because as the story unfolds to viewers in this 103-minute movie, it’s a rather long-winded, non-linear, rambling tale that will test the patience of people having to hear it. The movie flashes back and forth between showing Veronica’s life as a child, Veronica’s life as an adult, David’s life before his wife died of cancer, and David’s life as a widower.

There’s a lot to unpack about David’s and Veronica’s lives, but one thing is clear: Veronica has had a lot of people close to her die while she’s still in her 20s. She also spent time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, but she confessed to the crime and asked for the maximum sentence. Why? Because she feels guilty about something she did in her past.

Most of the movie has spoiler information, so the only spoiler-free details that can really be revealed are from some of the flashback scenes. Viewers find out that David’s wife/Veronica’s mother Roseangela (played by Tennille Read) was a Brazilian immigrant in Canada. Veronica is David and Roseangela’s only child.

This family of three had a happy life until Roseangela got cancer when Veronica was about 9 years old. David, who never remarried, used to own a restaurant. But at some point in his life, he switched careers to become a health inspector of restaurants.

Flashbacks show that David was a very stern inspector who took his job very seriously. He liked to randomly show up and surprise people with his inspections. And he wouldn’t hesitate to shut down a restaurant for health-code violations.

There’s a scene where he finds a strand of hair in his food while dining at a food court, and he gives a scathing lecture to the young woman behind the counter for not wearing a hair net while working. There are no scenes of David as a restaurateur, but there are scenes of him visiting Veronica in prison and being frustrated when she refuses his offer to help her get released early.

When Veronica was a child (played by Isabella Franca), she took piano lessons from a family friend named Alicia (played by Sochi Fried), who had a son named Walter (played by Alexander Marsh), who was approximately the same age as Veronica. Walter and Veronica became close friends, and that relationship had developed into a romance by the time that they became young-adult teenagers. (Gage Munroe plays the adult Walter.)

As for the crime that landed Veronica in prison, even though she didn’t commit the crime, it was for sexual misconduct with an underage student. A flashback shows that Veronica used to be a music teacher at a high school, where she was the conductor of the school’s orchestra. Being a young, attractive and popular teacher got her a lot of attention from the male students, and well as other people who were in her orbit.

While on a tour with the school orchestra, one of the students named Clive (played by Alexandre Bourgeois) has an obvious crush on Veronica, so he boldly asks her out to dinner after one of the orchestra’s performances. Veronica politely declines and says that she has a dinner date with the tour bus driver, whose name is Mike (played by Rossif Sutherland). Mike is a scruffy creep who’s about 10 to 15 years older than Veronica. She’s not interested in Mike, but Veronica is temporarily using Mike as a “shield” to ward off Clive’s advances.

When Veronica has dinner with Mike, it’s obvious that Mike is attracted to her too. He’s been noticing that Veronica and Clive have a little bit of a mutual flirtation, but as far as anyone can see, there’s nothing inappropriate going on between the student and the teacher. When Veronica tells Mike that she’s only having dinner with him so that Clive will lose interest in her, Mike is offended. However, Veronica tells Mike that he shouldn’t be insulted because she’s being honest with him in telling him that she’s not interested in dating Mike either.

The movie reveals exactly how Veronica got into trouble and why she was accused of sexual misconduct. There’s also quite a bit of screen time showing David on the job as an inspector. Although he can be a tough evaluator, he also shows moments of compassion. One of the restaurants that David inspects is a place called the Vienna Tavern, where he has a fateful meeting with a restaurant manager named Anna (Arsinée Khanjian).

And a white rabbit named Benjamin, which David gave to Veronica as a gift when she was 9 years old, is a quasi-metaphor in the movie for David’s relationship with Veronica. The rabbit lives a lot longer than most rabbits, and that longevity is mentioned in the movie, to make it obvious to viewers that this is supposed to be a special rabbit.

David takes care of Benjamin when Veronica is in prison. He clings to the rabbit in moments when it’s obvious that he’s thinking of Veronica. David and Veronica also think a rabbit’s foot is a good-luck charm, which leads to a gruesome request that David makes toward the end of the film.

One of the striking things about this family drama is how isolated David and Veronica seem to be in their lives after Roseangela died. If Veronica and David have any other relatives or any other friends besides Walter and Alicia, they are not seen or mentioned at all in this movie, which is why this story feels like a lot is missing. There’s also a cringeworthy part of the movie where Father Greg commits a major breach of ethics by revealing to Veronica something confidential that David told Father Greg.

The weakest part of “Guest of Honour” is when David tries to play private detective and to find out exactly how and why Veronica got in trouble and imprisoned for a crime that he knows that she didn’t commit. It leads to some hokey moments, such as when David does some melodramatic shouting in a restaurant about Veronica’s reputation and how she’s not the type of person to commit the crime.

This investigation takes an emotional toll on David, but the scenes just aren’t very well-written. David goes from being a nebbish health inspector to having an almost vigilante-like obsession to get justice for his daughter. He’s not acting like Liam Neeson in a “Taken” movie, but David starts making threats as if he’s some kind of mob boss for the health department.

As a mystery, “Guest of Honour” (whose title is explained in the film) loses steam by the last third of the film because Veronica’s secret has already been revealed at this point. It’s not a surprise that David has a secret too, which is revealed toward the end of film, but his secret is very anti-climactic.

Although the acting and most of the production elements (such as cinematography and production design) in “Guest of Honour” are good (but not great), ultimately the movie could have benefited from a better screenplay and tighter editing. The father and daughter at the center of this story are written as a series of unfortunate events instead of people with emotionally rich and full lives.

Kino Lorber released “Guest of Honour” in select U.S. and Canadian virtual cinemas on July 10, 2020. The movie’s DVD and Blu-ray release date is August 18, 2020.