Coming 18 years after her first feature, 1999's Coming Soon, Colette Burson's second feature length film, Permanent, was clouded with mystery due to very little promotion. Ironically this feels to be in the film's best interest as it's a quiet indie that provides a few laughs and an enjoyable hour and thirty-four minutes, but fails to present you anything of actual substance.
It's 1982 and Aurelie Dixon, played by impressive newcomer Kira McLean, is starting fresh in a new town after her dad Jim (Rainn Wilson), leaves his job as an Air Force One Steward to study medicine. In the opening sequence we watch Jim proudly hang up signed pictures of Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and himself hard at work on the aircraft. We learn later in the film that he didn't leave because he wanted to, rather because the President wanted a medium rare steak and the only meat on board was a pork chop. "It was my job to check" the disgraced Steward sadly breathes.
After much pleading Aurelie convinces her mom Jeanne (Patricia Arquette) to allow her to get a permanent for her first day at her new middle school, which leads the recently down on their luck family to the local beauty school for a permanent they could afford. The result: the most tragic perm that you've ever seen. This sets her up for a series of awkward formative moments including a first kiss scene that feels very reminiscent of Ang Lee's family drama The Ice Storm, in which one character wears a disturbingly realistic mask of a president's face.
The performances are what draw you to this film, as they were perfect for the type of narrative and the script. Rainn Wilson's overtly confident but fairly pathetic character has such great chemistry with Patricia Arquette's loveably quirky, desperately lonely, dolphin loving Jeanne. Wilson's performance also prompts the question "is Rainn Wilson Dwight Schrute or is Dwight Schrute Rainn Wilson?"
Part of our AIFF 2017 Review Roundup.