White Elephant‘s opening credits make it look like it’s a pilot or a cheap pre-pilot. Although yes, it’s in bad form to criticize Canadian films for their budgets. It is a film of ennui within the hallways of a high school in the border of Scarborough/Markham circa 1996. One of the children loitering those hallways is Pooja (Zaarin Bushra). She’s bored with the same crap that her friends like Manpreet (Gurleen Singh) and Amit (Dulmika Hapuarachchi) do. That boredom fuels her crush towards a white boy. That boy is Trevor (Jesse Naismith) who hangs out at her school.
Pooja is a character that a certain set of viewers can relate so. That target, by the way, are the second generation Canadians who don’t fit into convenient categories. She’s not South Asian enough to her South Asian friends because Canada is her birthplace. And yet, she’s a target of anti-South Asian hate from people who don’t share that heritage. This makes for interesting media representation, but it feels like it sets up those racial conflicts easily. One of those set-ups involve Pooja running into Trevor and his white friend Lainey (Kalyna Fisher). And yes, they’re saying racist stereotypes against Pooja.
Some conflicts beget others, which is a thing that conveniently happens here. A fight between Manpreet and a white girl who calls herself Trevor’s girlfriend makes Manpreet’s brother step in. This doesn’t go anywhere. But there’s something about how the brother deliver his lines. He convinces the viewers that he’s actually feeling what he says. The promise of stakes makes the young actors actually do their job. It reveals that these characters are tough when they need to be. The conflicts here look like arbitrary clichés, but it reveals who these characters’ friends really are, making for touching moments.