The Hanging Garden

on November 07, 1997 by Kevin Courrier
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   A 25-year-old gay man, Sweet William (Chris Leavins), comes home to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the wedding of his sister Rosemary ("Shallow Grave's" Kerry Fox) and to face the family he abandoned 10 years earlier. While he's there, all the family secrets and wounds around his tormented relationship with his violent father (Peter McNeill) and guilt-ridden mother (Seana McKenna) emerge-literally,in the form of ghosts. Through these apparitions the audience comes to understand Sweet William's past when he was an overweight teenager (played by Tom Veinotte) and first coming to terms with his homosexuality. The guilt around those feelings and the family oppression forces Sweet William to hang himself in the garden. And it's that image that serves as a metaphor for the events in the present.
   "The Hanging Garden," a likable first feature by Canadian director Thom Fitzgerald, won both the Toronto City Award for Best Canadian First Feature and the Air Canada People's Choice Award for Most Popular film at the Toronto fest. Essentially a tale about coming to terms with tragedy and learning how to forgive, it has a colorful performance by Fox, who spits out obscenities with rabid glee, and a lovely bit of acting by Seana McKenna, who wears her sensuality like a cloak.
   But the style of "The Hanging Garden" works against the magical qualities of its story. Fitzgerald deliberately gives the film a realistic look, but it defeats the power of ghostly presences. Because magic is about possibilities, not realities, the resolution of "The Hanging Garden" seems like sentimental wish fulfillment. It's as if the troubled families of Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams went on a summer holiday, came home and got their sanity back.    Starring Chris Leavins, Kerry Fox, Seana McKenna, Peter McNeill and Troy Veinotte. Directed and written by Thom Fitzgerald. Produced by Louise Garfield, Arnie Gelbart and Thom Fitzgerald. A Goldwyn release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality, language, a scene of a hanging, and some teen drug use. Running time: 91 min. Won the Toronto City Award for Best Canadian First Feature and the Air Canada People's Choice Award for Most Popular film.
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