Degrassi: The Lost Generation?

People Hold On
(Canada, 98 min.)
Dir. Michael Seater, Writ. Paula Brancati, Michael Seater
Starring: Katie Boland, Paula Brancati, Mazin Elsadig, Ashley Leggat, Jonathan Malen, Al Mukadam, Noah Reid, Chloe Rose
Photo: Theo Skudra

Is our generation a lost one? People Hold On finds a group of high school friends at a crossroads when they reunite for a traditional cottage getaway that puts them all at a junction. Without the direction or confidence to choose between the carefree recklessness of youth and the sobering responsibilities of adulthood, these eight friends create considerable tension as they confront the personal struggles that keep them from growing up. Aided by a confident cast and a strong indie soundtrack, this lo-fi film is The Big Chill for a generation of Canadians, minus the corpse of Kevin Costner that sets the 1980s classic in motion.

If The Big Chill gives a thrill with its baby boomer energy and its great retro soundtrack, then People Hold On is an ensemble film of the maplecore days with an acoustic harmony. Instead of grooving to The Temptations in the kitchen, the cast of People Hold On grabs some cold ones and mellows out to an acoustic number as Matt (Noah Reid, Old Stock) performs the film’s title track with Robin (Paula Brancati, who also co-wrote the film). Like the iconic dance scene in The Big Chill, this scene in People Hold On is a refreshingly authentic moment that could appear at any gathering between old friends. It’s candid and soulful, wonderfully intimate and instantly relatable.

People Hold On brings a unique energy to the screen as it brings together a cast of characters played by actors who are friends in real life. The film stars a chorus of Degrassi alumni and Canadian film up-and-comers, and as the cast brings the characters face-to-face with the setting suns of their youth, People Hold On sees the actors push themselves to bolder dramatic limits. They break through and evolve as actors before our eyes as the characters come into their own.

Among the cast of campers is Reid’s carefree Matt, who’s the most obvious underachiever of the group of friends, but at least he’s the most open about his failings. Robin, on the other hand, struggles to let go of her love for Dan (Al Mukadam, Breakaway), her former boyfriend who shows up at the weekend with a surprise girlfriend named Marley (Chloe Rose, Hellions) who’s nearly ten years younger than these kids pushing thirty. Alycia (Katie Boland, Fall) is the most restless of the bunch, especially since Julia (Ashley Leggat) is the first to put a ring on it thanks to Darren (Mazin Elsadig), the oldest and squarest member of the group. Then, finally, there’s Freddy (Jonathan Malen, Mean Girls), who owns the cottage and seems to have his shit together, if only by comparison. This trip to the cottage offers rude awakenings in the warm summer air as all the friends (with a little help from some Wellington tall cans) realize that life doesn’t work out as nicely or neatly as expected. It’s a mess, and holding one to one’s closest friends is the only way to find an anchor and direction in the face of so much uncertainty.

The actors are all strong here with each one receiving a plum scene or two in which they can shine with monologues and close-ups. The nature of the dramatic structure gives Boland and Brancati the strongest, meatiest parts, and they don’t waste the opportunity to deliver strong, complicated characters who stand out amidst a compelling crew. Director/co-writer Michael Seater, making his feature directorial debut with People Hold On, harnesses the energy and vitality of the cast with an air of spontaneity as the camera observes this fateful weekend at the cottage with the slightest of intrusions. The handled cinematography feels intimate and immediate as People Hold On gets up and close with the actors as they channel the innermost anxieties of the characters, and jive together with the synergy and harmony that makes this group of friends so strong—and makes watching their dissolution all the more effective.

If one were to make a documentary about late-twentysomethings of Generation Y reuniting at a cottage, it would probably play a lot like People Hold On. The script has the lingo down and has a natural ear for the way current twentysomethings speak. (Although a few early references to plugged in/social media savvy culture are a bit forced.) Thanks to the impulsive style and the emotional honesty of the cast, the film speaks to the experiences of a generation. It’s relatable for anyone near or around the age of the cast, or anyone who’s ever felt insecure in their lives even in the company of their nearest friends. The film plays with the uneasy sense of limbo one experiences in the post-university years as the disappointments and realities of life leave one in a kind of purgatory between youth and adulthood.

However, the film departs from other contemporary maplecore films with a final act turn that lets the film linger. People Hold On bends genres with a speculative twist that makes the film unsettling with its ambiguity and lack of closure. What’s lost and what’s gained are questions to hold onto after the credits roll.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

People Hold On opens in Toronto (Carlton), Ottawa (Kanata), and Whitby on Friday, October 9.
It has a sneak peek October 7 at select Landmark Theatres with the Canadian Indie Film Series.