Recording a day in the death

Teen rages against dying of the light

Published: Jul 14 2013, 04:22:pm

Sunday, December 5, 2010
BEST DAY EVER: AIDEN KESLER 1994-2011. Written by Eric Johnson and Michael Coleman. Directed by Michael Coleman and Eric Johnson. Running time: 78 minutes.

TOLD THAT THE FUTURE was plastics, Benjamin Braddock took to his heels. In 1967, according to director Mike Nichols, The Graduate’s only possible response was rebellion.
    Told that his future was important, Ferris Bueller took the day off. In 1986, according to writer-director John Hughes, a high school senior’s only appropriate response was ridicule.
    Told that he has no future, Aiden Kesler takes up videography. Today, say writer-directors Eric Johnson and Michael Coleman, a media-savvy teen’s response is to create remembrance.
     Though their Best Day Ever: Aiden Kesler 1994 - 2011 remembers The Graduate and resembles Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it is its own assured take on teen crisis and comedy in the 21st century. An independently-produced Canadian feature, it manages to reflect the profound changes that have taken place in the media environment while staying true to the emotions that remain the same from one generation to the next.
    Being offered as a “found tape,” it begins with Aiden Kesler (Andrew MacFarlane) switching on his camcorder.  A 17-year-old with a need to record his presence, he videos himself slipping into his sleeping sister’s bedroom. We see him turn his back to her, slip down his pants and make his presence known with a rousing fart.
    Not a great first impression. But, as we soon learn, he has something on his mind. He records himself searching out information on leukemia, specifically the survival rates for 17-year-olds. They’re not good and, a true child of the millennium, he expects the worst.
    Indeed, Johnson and Coleman have already alerted us to his chances by including the dates “1994-2011” in their title. In doing so, they show their own appreciation of how Aiden’s generation views the future, one significantly different from that of Ben or Ferris.       
    By presenting his story as a found tape, they are speaking the language of Aiden’s time — an age of social networking and general media overload. In the process, they show us a youth discovering a truth at least as old as Socrates: the unexamined life is not worth living.
    Or, in Ferris Beuller’s words, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and take a look around once in a while, you might miss it." In extremity, then, Aiden Kesler gets Socratic, turning his last hours into reality TV.
    (If that sounds a touch too serious, it’s worth remembering that Socrates was condemned to death for corrupting the youth of Athens and that this is a movie that starts with a fart joke.)
    Aiden, camcorder in hand, sneaks into his older brother’s bedroom and pilfers the keys to his big, black SUV. Picking up his buddy Reece (Jarod Joseph), he drives to school and arranges to meet bully Sean (Myles Milligan) for a late afternoon fight.
     He then convinces friends Reece, Melissa (Christie Burke, credited as Christie Stainthorpe) and her boyfriend Kevin (Michael Brock) to cut classes and join him for the day off. This works to open out the conversation nicely, provide inspiration for the day’s incidents — “What’s next on the crazy docket?” Melissa asks at one point — and increase the number of hands holding the camcorder.
    As the day unfolds, the teens exchange taunts, insults and challenges, all in language that would never play in prime time. Their bravado is in marked contrast to the almost innocent playfulness of their actual behavior. What screenwriters Johnson and Coleman show us are kids who’ve seen it all but experienced none of it.    
    Aiden, as it turns out, has an agenda and uses his “best day ever” to bring about some needed changes in the lives of both Melissa and Reece. Under the guidance of their co-directors, all of the actors turn in the nuanced, naturalistic performances necessary to maintain the reality of the found-tape genre.
    In keeping with his “crazy docket,” most of Aiden’s day is dry and bright. Late in the movie, however, in keeping with the emotional moment, there is rain when a text message reminds him of his hospital appointment.   
    Shot over eight days in the Vancouver area, the locations have the feeling of a settled suburbia, while dialogue suggests homes where mothers rule and fathers are unmentioned, if not entirely absent.
    It is not a landscape that privileged sons Ben Braddock and Ferris Beuller would find familiar. This is the world of their children and grandchildren.
    In an irony that would not be lost on its 17-year-old hero, Best Day Ever: Aiden Kesler 1994 - 2011 is likely to be rated Restricted in the U.S. (18A in Canada) for its direct language, the explicit subject matter of its characters‘ conversations and a scene involving a shocking-pink sex toy.

Based on notes taken at a preview screening at Vancouver's Rio Theatre, this review by Michael Walsh is original to