“What ARE You?”

This question is top of mind in the opening scene of Edmonton-based filmmaker Trevor Anderson’s debut feature Before I Change My Mind, as new student Robin (Vaughan Murrae) is introduced to a junior high class in 1980s small-town Alberta. Robin conforms to neither male nor female gender identity, a point the film quickly establishes by having them choose to sit in the centre row, taking neither the boys nor the girls side (while pronouns are never assigned to the character on screen, I will henceforth use “they/them” for the sake of efficiency).

Seeking a fresh start with their IT-expert father (experimental director Matthew Rankin in a rare acting appearance), Robin is eager to fit in at their new school and takes the counterintuitive step of trying to befriend class bully Carter (Dominic Lippa). Through a series of fortunate events, this persistence pays off as the two end up being thick as thieves managing to get into whatever trouble small-town Alberta and a field-trip to West Edmonton mall have to offer.

But it wouldn’t be a true bro(?)mance if a girl didn’t threaten to come between the two, this one arriving in the form of carefree spirit and budding kleptomaniac Izzy (Lacey Oake) who is co-starring in a school musical that is suspiciously derivative of Jesus Christ Superstar. Before long, the two friends find themselves competing for the young lady’s attention. With the hormonal tension threatening to stretch to the breaking point, Robin will have to come to terms that the type of person you decide to be has far-reaching consequences for those in your life.

Interestingly, the film itself never clarifies Robin’s gender identity. While most viewers in 2024 will immediately label Robin as non-binary/genderfluid, I would submit that given the less-enlightened time of the film’s setting, it’s just as likely that Robin could be a tomboy-ish girl or even a slightly-effeminate boy. Co-scriptors Anderson and Fish Griwkowsky are content to leave such technical matters to the audience and are far more interested in exploring the choices we make about who we associate with and how such associations can alter our behaviour.

Robin’s behaviour is greatly influenced by peer pressure, whether it’s participating in ganging up on an easy target in the class (Jhztyn Contado) or being pressured into shoplifting by Izzy. None of these ventures prove fulfilling as they deviate from Robin’s authentic self and only lead to a destructive outcome in the final act. As Robin, Vaughan plays the cards a little close to the chest but effectively portrays a confused preteen at their most malleable.

Wearing its indie-cred like a badge of honour, the film manages to eschew any hint of TV-movie blandness and leans instead into a quirky aesthetic often illustrated by dreamy interludes, still-photo montages and quick cuts to VHS footage of scenes real-or-imagined. It’s a style that fits right in with Anderson’s penchant to utilise multiple shooting formats in his projects (film, digital, tape, take your pick). I was also pleased to see the Edmonton setting woven into the story, even if the necessary period trappings limit its scope somewhat.

Before I Change My Mind plays a seemingly standard coming-of-age story in 80s clothing on the surface while planting deep themes of identity, gender or otherwise, underneath. It does it all with confidence and unique stylistic flair making it one of the finer independent films to come out of Alberta in some time and scores major points from this reviewer to actually set its story in the province. Recommended.




Before I Change My Mind will be released in Canadian theatres on April 19

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