Solid performances featured in long-awaited ‘Year and Year’

There are many outstanding moments in the newly-released locally-produced film Year After Year, which was screened this past Sunday at Carnival Cinemas.

The Matchbox Theatre Foundation and Ozmosis Entertainment in association with Ignition Theatre premiered the film and a week-long public screening runs at Carnival Nov. 1-7.

Year After Year has been cleverly adapted from the 2010 stage musical of the same name (book by Matt Grue). The story focuses on the years of seven friends in their late 20s as they attempt to ‘navigate the waters of hollow careers, lost ambition, forgotten dreams and the relationships that matter most’.

From the start, it’s very clear that the project landed in the best hands for directing with Dustin Clark, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced along with Matt Grue.

He captures expressions, scenes, moods, subtleties and shades of shifting emotions so well as the story unfolds. His natural skill at presenting a story shines through at virtually every turn.

Music for the production was penned by Curtis Labelle. The lyrics were written by Spenser Pasman and Stephanie Ridge. Each deserve kudos for an exceptional selection of songs that punctuate but don’t overwhelm the story itself. The songs also offer the cast members to take their characters to deeper levels.

The movie opens with a circle of friends gathering to celebrate Bill’s 28th birthday. Things are pleasant at first, but soon cracks appear – in a marriage, relationships and personal lives. A truth or dare game brings things into sharp focus when Bill is directly asked if he is happy. He stammers trying to find the answer he knows his friends want to hear, but it’s clear he’s anything but happy.

And so begins an exploration of what it means to find oneself in the fleeting years of the late 20s in a world of competition, pressure to succeed and the inevitable drive to compare ourselves with others.

As to the cast, each and every person selected for this project brings plenty of heart to their roles, particularly Joel Crichton who plays the lead character of Bill – a struggling writer who sees growing a single year older as a horrendous threat to his dreams, plans and hopes for success. Crichton is an exceptional actor (and always has been since his days lighting up the stage at Red Deer College). It’s virtually impossible to imagine anyone else in the role of Bill, who at various moments through the story is wracked with confusion, pain, disillusionment and fear. Crichton covers it all with a pure and unrestrained naturalism.

The same can be said for Sarah Hemphill, who plays Kate. There’s a strong chemistry between her and Crichton, which fuels the journey of their up and down relationship beautifully.

Both are gifted singers as well, which that much more empowers their performances as two people who love each other but can’t manage to find the ability to connect romantically.

Then there is Hunter, (Matthew Thiel), who is Bill’s best friend and a renowned photographer jetting off to assignments in London. His runaway success is a stark reminder of Bill’s sense of disarray, but Hunter is a faithful, supportive friend and those elements come through well in Thiel’s performance. But money and success aren’t everything – Hunter has a bit of unraveling to come his way as well – and Thiel’s imaginative, vulnerable portrayal make him the ideal man for the part.

Todd (Chris W. Cook) and Rachel (Elena Porter), are a couple teetering on the edge of divorce and their undoing marks some of the film’s most powerful moments. There is a poignant musical scene featuring them both that is raw and heart-wrenching – both actors are putting their all into those tender moments and it’s amazing to witness.

Peter (Andrew McKenzie) and Laura (Zina Lee) have been dating since college and are looking towards the next step. McKenzie offers plenty of comical moments through the story, and Lee is charming as the sweet-natured Laura.

Ultimately, as mentioned before, much of the weight of the show falls on Crichton’s shoulders and he manages to convincingly pull it off. And as strong as each actor is, they are also incredibly strong as a unit of friends – complete with moments of sheer instability, doubt, anger and grief over perhaps what could have been.

The film isn’t perfect. There are scenes that are emotionally heavy-handed and could certainly be trimmed. Also, it was tough to get the full impact of the film during the preview as the final sound editing hasn’t been completed as of yet. Once it’s finished and crystal clear, the film will stand even stronger.

Other scenes near the end of Crichton running through a park as his life in general terms is turning around didn’t come through as particularly powerful. That occasional tendency to push it a bit too far only erodes the impact of a scene, in my opinion.

But the film does end in a very meaningful way, and again, much credit must be given to those who are responsible for writing the screenplay and of course to the masterful Clark and director of photography Don Armstrong whose framing of each shot shows not just tremendous skill but a real passion and care for the project.

For more information about Year After Year, check out

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