Directed by Andrea Dorfman | Written by Jennifer Deyell |90 min | On Demand
I’ve been so looking forward to Andrea Dorfman’s new feature — she made a terrific NFB documentary in 2018, The Girls of Meru, but her last dramatic movie from 2014, Heartbeat, was a favourite. Beside telling a tale of love and self-actualization, it really showed off the whimsical appeal of north end Halifax. I’m thrilled to report this new indie comedy is also a lot of fun.
Gaby (Chelsea Peretti, familiar to fans of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is 39 and, following a split with a drip of a boyfriend, she bemoans her romantic fate to friends and family. She wonders if she’ll end up like the older lady who lives alone in the apartment above hers — she hasn’t heard her in awhile and suspects she might have died alone. She feels the pressure of being a single woman approaching 40 from everyone around her, even from her good friend, Amanda (Susan Kent), who’s married with kids. This while her divorcee brother, Alex, (David Rossetti) who’s raising a tween girl, Adele (Nadia Tonen), wants to fob her off on Gaby so he can work on his dream of being a stand-up.
So far, so much a classic romcom structure. All we need now is for Gaby to meet-cute some hunky but slightly unavailable dude and run into complications with his career or ex-wife, but eventually it’ll all work out with a wedding, just like Shakespeare’s comedies and Jane Austen used to do it. But Spinster has something else on its mind — the film deconstructs those expectations by making Gaby the hero of her own story, finding life satisfaction beyond potential love interests.
Through a four season structure, Gaby works on getting her shit together. She rescues a dog, gets to know her niece, and dusts off a dream or two. She even discovers the woman upstairs has a lot more going on than she thought. The film sets up and deftly pulls apart a slew of preconceptions about the lives many women actually choose — even the assumptions baked in Gaby’s own fears — and makes a number of savvy points around what’s actually important and fulfilling to people.
It’s actually slightly depressing that a film simply celebrating self-discovery and growth outside typical Hollywood romantic conventions can feel so revolutionary, but even in 2020 that’s where we are. It brings home the rules and rigidity of some genres of film, and how we’ve grown comfortable with those cinematic conventions, let alone the kinds of judgements people make in real life. When Gaby does have a moment where an opportunity with a fella presents itself following a very unlikely meet-cute, she makes a call you probably won’t see coming.
Haligonians will enjoy the many recognizable locations the production chose in town. The Local, Seahorse, and Bide Awhile feature prominently, and a few talented and familiar thesps show up in support — I see you Josh MacDonald, Taylor Olson, and Koumbie. The sweet Dan Ledwell score and plenty of songs by area musicians, including Kinley, Hello Delaware, Erin Costelo, Jenn Grant, and Mo Kenny, help add warmth to the proceedings.