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Sex, lies and Saskatoon: ‘The Shape of Rex’

by Brian D. Johnson on Monday, June 10, 2013 9:00am


A Canadian film that deserves to be seen has been strangely ignored. The Shape of Rex, a Saskatoon tale of teen romance and mid-life adultery, marks the feature film debut of Layne Coleman, an actor/writer/stage director who has been part Toronto’s theatrical lifeblood since the pioneer days of Theatre Passe Muraille. Coleman scripted, produced and directed The Shape of Rex with long-time writing partner William Hominuke, a Saskatoon lawyer and former disc jockey. Full disclosure: I’ve known Layne for decades; Friday’s Canadian premiere of The Shape of Rex at Toronto’s Royal Cinema served as a benefit for the Al Purdy A-Frame Association, which I’m involved with; and the movie was preceded by a short film I made about Purdy. So I was not planning to review The Shape of Rex. And I’m still reluctant to. But it seems outrageous that a film with so much going for it has largely escaped notice.


Coleman and Hominuke got the cold shoulder from every festival on the map, except the Fargo Film Festival in North Dakota. And it has yet to find a distributor. So you’re thinking, how good could it be? Well, it strikes me as being better than a lot of Canadian art house fare that gets more reverential treatment. This is a picture with a vivid sense of place. It captures Saskatoon’s landscape, and the river that runs through it, with an evocative lyricism that feels definitive and personal. And its drama is propelled by some incandescent acting—in particular, a breathtaking performance by the young Vivien Endicott-Douglas, who was nominated for an ACTRA award.


With a narrative that toggles between the 1980s and the present day, the drama is rooted in a reckless romance between 16-year-old Rose (Endicott-Douglas) and Rex (Brett Donahue), a hot-blooded older boy who has a summer job as a disc jockey. They meet again years later, both comfortably married with children. Rex (Ryan Hollyman) is now a lawyer, Rose (Monica Dottor) a stained glass artist. In the name of “unfinished business,” they cautiously embark on an affair that we know cannot possibly end well, one that never escapes the chilly shadow of a horrific secret that they share. As their respective spouses (Lorne Cardinal and Aviva Armour Ostroff) confirm their suspicions—he with measured rage, she with withering contempt—two marriages are put to the ultimate test.

It’s a bit grim. The adultery unfolds as a forlorn and passionless crime, with no trace of the young lovers’ chemistry—ironic considering the actors playing the older Rose and Rex are a real-life couple. And the strained symmetry of the parallel storylines can be frustrating. We’re grateful every time the narrative hurls us back into the past, to the lazy, reckless embrace of young love burning up on the banks on the Saskatchewan River.

Yet unlike a lot of Canadian films, The Shape of Rex is not a feat of urbane hipster restraint and existential dread. It’s a big-boned drama ripe with passion and sadness. Although it’s amply cinematic, you could imagine it being stripped down into a powerful stage play. But see the movie. It’s the kind of film that critics and festival programmers may find unfashionable, but judging by the warm response I saw Friday night, it strikes a chord with a civilian audience. 


The Shape of Rex is playing all week at the Royal. Monday night’s screening is a benefit for a new stage work being mounted by Linda Griffiths called Heaven Above, Heaven Below. As for the rest of the country, all I can say is it’s a crying shame if this movie does not find an audience in Saskatchewan. The producers say they have tried to contact TIFF’s Film Circuit, which is devoted to distributing smaller pictures to regional cinemas, but have been unable to get a response.



by Marni Jackson 


I’m in a café thinking about “The Shape of Rex”, trying to be analytical, when a Dylan song floats through the place. Buckets of rain, buckets of tears…And that’s when the deep, grown-up and satisfying sadness of the movie hits me. “The Shape of Rex” is a movie about sexual innocence, sexual betrayal, and the power of secrets, to feed desire, and to poison it.  It’s a song in two keys—a rapturous story of young love alongside a bitterly honest, forensic portrait of marriages unravelling. Everything feels fresh and original about this movie, including the gorgeous prairie landscapes and the hidden delights of Saskatoon as a perfect backdrop for adultery.


The premise: our memory of first love never completely fades. And if your first love steps back into your life (wearing a black dress with a little dip in the back), watch out.


The setting:  Saskatoon, with its limitless blue skies, rough northern edges and tender summer laneways. It’s the kind of place that can open you up, like the iris of a camera, or close in around you—just like the hotel room where Rex and Rose, who fell in love in their teens, embark on an affair as adults.  He’s a lawyer now, she’s an artist working in stained glass. They both have children, good lives, and trusting spouses. The room where they meet is in the legendary Bessborough Hotel on the banks of the broad Saskatchewan River, which flows through the movie with magnificent indifference.


At first, with a bottle of champagne cooling in an ice bucket and the bed front and centre, the hotel room looks liberating, inviting – a clean slate. But as the affair continues, and takes its inevitable toll on their lives, the room becomes more claustrophobic. Rex and Rose drink more wine and take gloomy bubble baths, trying to keep the world at bay. Their past both haunts them (they share a terrible secret) and sustains them. And their good, patient spouses gradually become suspicious.


I love the scene where Rose’s husband surprises her at her laptop, emailing Rex after she promised not to.  She slams the laptop shut. He puts his hand on it: still warm. What he does to his wife’s laptop next makes for a very satisfying moment.  Our devices—the   texting, the surreptitious phone calls, the unwise emails—are  usually the first to betray us.


“The Shape of Rex” manages to capture the sweetness of an old love rekindled, along with the terrible airlessness of a clandestine affair. No matter how much passion burns at the core of them, sooner or later affairs begin to suffer from a lack of oxygen.  Cut off from society and family, they limp along, or end prematurely and painfully—there’s no easy way out.  And every marriage discovers the pain of betrayal, in small or in life-changing ways.  It’s how love grows up, in a way.  But the losses that Rex and Rose must face in their story also lead them to a new and redemptive discovery.


The opening credit sequence deserves a word: a crazy, jumped-up, animated brouhaha that accompanies an incredible blues performance by Davina Sowers and the Vagabonds.  Gutsy and soulful, the credits deliver a quick tequila shooter before the smooth brandy of the main narrative.


The performances of the four leads, including Brett Donahue, Ryan Hollyman and Monica Dottor are all unstinting, but Vivien Endicott-Douglas as the young Rose, really walks the plank. Layne Coleman and William Hominuke do an impressive job of directing the ensemble.


And then there are the bridges in the movie. Bridges pack a narrative punch, for obvious reasons:  they are man-made structures that overcome natural obstacles.  They connect things, and let us cross to the other side. They seem to broadcast optimism. Bridges are functional, and lyrical.  Sometimes they are beautiful too.


“The Shape of Rex” includes ravishing images of some of the seven bridges that define Saskatoon, including the most iconic one, the Broadway Bridge—a structure dear to my heart, as it happens.  My parents met, went to college and spent their young married life in Saskatoon, where my freshly graduated father was part of the team of engineers who built the Broadway Bridge in 1932, as a Depression relief project. I can’t imagine what it must have been like, to work on the bridge through a killingly cold prairie winter. The resulting structure combines muscle with an almost Parisian grace, and brings a touch of the Seine to the Saskatchewan River. 


I grew up mostly in the east, but when my father died, I took his ashes back to Saskatoon, and scattered them under the bridge.  So when this movie lingered on the image of the bridge, and I watched Rex and Rose, at 16 and 19, sharing their first kiss under its dark ribs, it really got me. There’s something both intimate and a little derelict about a place like that, off the beaten path, and close to the current of the river. You shouldn’t be there, of course. You should be heading home, or going to work. But from under the bridge, and if you happen to be in love, you see everything in a different light.


Marni Jackson is an award-winning Toronto journalist and author.



REVIEW: Calgary International Film Festival 2013: The Shape of Rex


Canadian film details a rekindled romance after lives lived apart


By Mario Trono, CBC News Posted: Sep 20, 2013 12:07 PM MT Last Updated: Sep 20, 2013 12:07 PM MT




There you are, living your adult life, until someone you dated in high school connects with you online. What if you correspond, then meet up, and it feels as good as when the two of you left off — but you’re married to someone else and have kids?


'Exactly how you proceed to judge the cheating hearts in this capable and moving drama will tell you something about yourself.'


That’s the big, prairie-wide “what if” asked by The Shape of Rex, a Canadian film set in Saskatoon in both the 1980s and the present day. We get the story of 16-year-old, open-hearted Rose (Vivien Endicott-Douglas), how she falls for the slightly older and passionate Rex (Brett Donahue), and how Rose’s domineering father stops the budding romance dead in its tracks. 


All this transpires in flashback, as we also see their adult versions (played by Ryan Hollyman and Monica Dottor) now immersed in their own conventional family lives not far from the Saskatchewan River. Those waters are a perfect metaphor for time’s relentless flow but also for memories, which eddy and swirl in the moment, as you drink a coffee at work but then suddenly recall a Clearasil-scented kiss from back when you carried fake ID. 


But the adult Rose and Rex can’t help themselves. Their young romance was cut short so they pick it up, acting like kids by messaging each other and making play romantic lists, with one adult exception — clandestine hotel encounters away from trusting spouses and offspring. 


Director Layne Coleman gets fine performances from young and adult performers, right from the start of the film where it’s revealed early on that, unbeknownst to Rex, he is the father of Rose’s grown daughter.


Moral ambiguity abounds. Well, somewhat. As kids, these two loved each other fiercely and might have married had it not been for outdated parental rules about dating and sex. They’ve got unfinished — and passionate — business, and you feel for them. But the train-wreck toll that love affairs take on families is served up painfully in this film, which forces a judgment from you. Exactly how you proceed to judge these cheating hearts as you watch this solid screen drama will tell you something about yourself.


See it or not?


See it. If you’re allergic to Canadian cinema, get over yourself. Sure, I could quibble about some lighting and blocking problems in this one (as I could with many American flicks), but all films make small mistakes. What matters is if they have enough quality to make you not care, and this one does. Watch especially for standout performances from Endicott-Douglas as young Rose and from Aviva Armour Ostroff as Rex’s wife. 




Saskatoon Film Up For Award



The debut feature film by Saskatoon's Factoria Films got some praise Tuesday when one of its stars, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, was nominated for an ACTRA Toronto 2013 award. The Toronto actress was nominated for her performance in The Shape of Rex, which was filmed in and around Saskatoon in the summer and fall of 2011.


Factoria Films was founded in 2010 by Saskatchewan natives Layne Coleman and William Hominuke. Coleman was born in North Battleford and was formerly the artistic director of 25th Street Theatre in Saskatoon. Hominuke is a Saskatoon resident and former lawyer. The pair co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced The Shape of Rex. Distribution of the film is pending.


In the film, Endicott-Douglas played Rose, a troubled 16-year-old growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1980s. She is one of five nominees vying for the award. The ACTRA Awards celebrate outstanding lead and supporting performances by ACTRA Toronto members. ACTRA Toronto represents more than 15,000 Canadian actors and stunt and background professionals.

Factoria Films Completes First Full-Length Feature Movie

Factoria Films recently announced that it has completed post-production on The Shape of Rex, its first full-length feature movie shot on location in Saskatoon during the summer and fall of 2011. Factoria is a Canadian film production company based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and founded in 2010 by Bill Hominuke and Layne Coleman. The Shape of Rex was co-written, co-produced and co-directed by Coleman and Hominuke. 

Layne Coleman has spent a lifetime as an actor, playwright, director and producer in the world of Canadian theatre in a career that has played out on three continents. His accomplishments in Canadian theatre are legendary; he has been a new play creator in the Canadian theatre community for over three decades. He was a long-time Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto, Canada's oldest alternative theatre, which has produced over five hundred new Canadian plays during its decades of existence. 

Coleman was a resident screenwriter at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto shortly after its founding by director Norman Jewison.  He received the Rita Davies Award from the Toronto Arts Council for contributions to the arts in Toronto. He also was nominated for a National Magazine Award for his non-fiction piece entitled Oasis of Hope for the Walrus magazine, which he then adapted into a play; it was nominated for a Best New Play Dora award in Toronto after its premiere. Upon leaving Theatre Passe Muraille he was presented with The Silver Ticket Award for lifetime achievement by the Toronto Alliance For The Performing Arts. Coleman is currently writing a non-fiction book, This Will Change Everything, about male crisis in middle age, as well as working on a new screenplay with Hominuke. The Shape of Rex marks Coleman’s film debut as co-director, co-writer and co-producer.

William Hominuke is a Saskatoon lawyer who placed his legal career on hold to resume a writing career that began twenty-five years ago with his writing partner, Layne Coleman.  Prior to studying law, Hominuke spent many years as a disc jockey in Canadian radio while he and Coleman simultaneously worked on writing projects for the theatre -- most notably Queen’s Cowboy, a play that was hailed by the Toronto Sun as “one of the best Canadian plays of the last decade.” The pair also co-authored Conversations With Girls in Private Rooms, produced by Saskatoon’s 25th Street Theatre during a landmark theatre season produced by Coleman. The Shape of Rex marks Hominuke’s film debut as co-writer, co-director and co-producer. 

Hominuke earned a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Political Studies from the University of Saskatchewan and a Juris Doctor degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He was called to the Saskatchewan bar in 1996.