Shallow Roots: Our Review of ‘Trouble in the Garden’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 15, 2019
Shallow Roots: Our Review of ‘Trouble in the Garden’

Canada has taken far too long to reckon with its horrific legacy of mistreatment towards Indigenous peoples, particularly within our screen industry. So on a certain level, it’s important to see a film like Trouble in the Garden come along, which attempts to grapple with some of our unpleasant history – in this case, the Sixties Scoop, which saw thousands of Indigenous children taken from their families and placed with white foster parents between the 1950s and 1980s.

The central character here, Raven (Cara Gee), is one of these children. Now grown up and estranged from her foster family, she is an Indigenous activist protesting the treaty land rights in a Northern Ontario town, where a real-estate developer wants to build new luxury homes. When she’s arrested, her foster brother, Colin (Jon Cor), reappears out of nowhere to bail her out, although she has to stay with him and his family under house arrest until her court date. As she bonds with his wife and young daughter, Raven also has to deal with the fact that Colin happens to be the real estate agent selling the homes on the land she’s protesting.

At this point, however, the film unfortunately settles into that “making racism palatable for white people” mode where the introduction of Raven into this white environment allows for them to reevaluate their belief systems and become better people. This isn’t helped by Colin’s wife, Alice (Kelly Van der Burg), pregnant with their second child and sporting a perpetual deer in the headlights look, who has to be literally taught what treaty land is by Raven as if she’s an alien from another planet.

That’s not to say that there aren’t people out there for whom a harsh primer on Indigenous history isn’t necessary. It’s just that British-born writer-director Roz Owen’s bluntly didactic dialogue doesn’t come off very naturally, no matter how committed the actors are to their characters. Likewise, for a movie about Indigenous issues, it’s mainly populated by white characters; meanwhile, the only Indigenous characters who do appear are essentially only defined by their struggles rather than given any real shading.

I’m not against filmmakers trying to explore alternate points of view through their art, but maybe this just isn’t Owen’s story to tell?

In any case, the film does work up a certain level of modest engagement along the way and rising star Cara Gee (Empire of Dirt) brings a level of warmth and nuance to Raven that the script doesn’t seem to necessarily contain. But by the time the third act rolls around and her foster parents swing by for a visit, Owens steeps her film even further in contrived melodrama, resulting in a hysterical climax that overshadows any of the subtle character work that may have come before. It may work somewhat for shock value but without any real emotional lead-up to it, the final revelations come off hollow, distracting from the overall point instead of putting an exclamation point on it.

With last year’s establishment of the Indigenous Screen Office, we’re finally starting to see the emergence of exciting new filmmakers receiving platforms for their visions. It’ll be exciting to see what the future holds. Trouble in the Garden, on the other hand, falls into that awkward chasm where largely Telefilm-backed productions can sometimes end up – it’s well meaning but ultimately kind of flat.

  • Release Date: 2/15/2019
This post was written by
After his childhood dream of playing for the Mighty Ducks fell through, Mark turned his focus to the glitz and glamour of the movies. He's covered the extensive Toronto film scene for online outlets and is a filmmaker himself, currently putting the final touches on a low-budget (okay, no-budget) short film to be released in the near future. You can also find him behind the counter as product manager of Toronto's venerable film institution, Bay Street Video.
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