|Paige Fleming, a high school student who dreams of becoming a writer, lives with her father in Moncton, New Brunswick. Her mother committed suicide two years earlier. Now Paige looks after her father, Ross, as he tries to recover from alcohol addiction. Her older brother Trevor left the family shortly after mom’s death. But before he did, he got into a fist fight with Ross, who ended up in the hospital. One night, Trevor unexpectedly returns after a long absence and reawakens the memory of their dead mother.
Paige, who fictionalizes her life in the plots of her stories, asks her English teacher for help with her writing, but feels betray when her teacher , when she reveals more to her literary friends than Paige would have liked. Ross, whose grasp on his work–a–day life is tenuous at best, resumes drinking and loses his job. Trevor finds this out when Ross comes home while Trevor is searching through some of his mother’s clothes in the basement. Ross drunkenly insists he put them back. When Trevor refuses, the two fight and Ross is hurt again. Paige blames Trevor and starts to drink herself. This leads to a drunken confrontation with her teacher.
Later Paige comes home to find Trevor wrecking the living room with a golf club. He insists the family must come to terms with the mother’s death and confront the turbulent past. For once Paige agrees with him, and tells Ross she can’t stay if he doesn’t deal with it. Ross can’t, and refuses to do so.
Calgary-based director Robert Cuffley chose his season well in setting Turning Paige near the end of winter. The snow, harsh skies and perennial foggy breath add to a feeling of being trapped, accentuating the characters’ inability to escape. The family is the crucible within which the characters must struggle to come to terms with their past and each other, and one couldn’t ask for a bleaker confluence of circumstances than this family must endure. It’s a family ravaged by rage, denial and alcoholism. Mom was, before her suicide, a shut-in and alcoholic. Ross (Nicholas Campbell) has been in AA for almost a year. He has secretly begun drinking again, though he hides it from his children as long as he can. Before the end of the movie, Paige (Katherine Isabelle) starts drinking heavily herself.
Cuffley focuses on the emotional triangle of Paige, Trevor (Philip DeWilde) and Ross, whose relationship is all but defined by a the mother’s absence. Isabelle (from Ginger Snaps) gives a strong performance as Paige, gracefully navigating the intense emotional shifts between her relationship with her teacher (Torri Higginson) and her dysfunctional family. Campbell (from DeVinci’s Inquest), as the bumbling, tortured father is exceptional, and proves once again he is actor of hidden depths. Evocatively using misdirection and implication – mimicking the character’s deliberate evasions – Cuffley’s feature film debut is a moving portrait of a volatile family hiding from its troubled past.
Also see: The Cast & Crew of Turning Paige.
This review was originally published in 2001 in Issue 33 of Take One magazine. Northernstars.ca acquired the archives of Take One in 2007.