Road to Avonlea Review: Home Movie

home movie avonlea

“So…when you look around you, haunted hill, at the homestead lights, at the fields tilled by the dead and gone who loved you, you’ll say, ‘Why, I’ve come home to this life.’ We’re lucky enough to live each moment of everyday in which Jasper Dale has been fortuitous and ingenious enough to catch it. We and future generations might know it.”

Episode Summary: American millionaire HB Dunn (Battlestar Galactica, Fargo, and Teen Wolf’s Michael Hogan) comes to Avonlea in order to turn the town into one of his “cities of the future.” He plans on buying the townspeople out and changing the quiet idyllic little island town into a booming 20th century metropolis. While many of the townspeople show genuine interest, Hetty hates the idea of Avonlea changing. In her anger, she once again shuts out everyone close to her, including Olivia, Jasper, and Sara. Meanwhile, Jasper is interested in taking an Edison movie camera and fixing it to shoot with a higher frame rate. Excited by the idea and his passion, Sara decides to go against Hetty’s wishes, and use some money from her trust in order to buy the camera for Jasper. When Hetty finds out, she threatens to sell the camera back. However, after stern words from Sara, Hetty decides that maybe the footage Jasper shot of the town can be used in the next town hall meeting to convince everyone that selling the town to Dunn is a bad idea. After an impassioned speech and a movie that dazzles the audience, Hetty is able to keep Avonlea…Avonlea.

Directed by Don McBrearty, Written by Marlene Matthews, and Music by John Welsman

My Grade: This is the best episode Don McBrearty has directed for the show. This is the best episode Marlene Matthews has written for the show. This is my absolute favorite episode of the entire series. It’s even above “A Mother’s Love.” I love this episode so much, I was literally worried about how I’d write this post…because I don’t know what more there is to write. But I’ll try. And I’ll start with Hetty’s relationships with the three other primary characters in this episode. I’ve said it so many times before, but my favorite “relationship” on this show is the one between Hetty and her niece Sara. And I wrote about their relationship in length in other past episodes that have more focus on that than this one. However, I still feel like something significant happens in this episode between the two of them. For Sara, this season is about telling the world that she’s grown up. She’s no longer simply a cute matchmaker (although she does sort of play that role with Felicity and Gus). She wants to be taken seriously. She tries this early in the season with “Moving On.” Her definitely silly and shortsighted plans in that episode don’t exactly work out. Then in the last episode, her love of writing is finally established. In that episode, she also learns the power she can possess with her trust. This is the episode where she finally takes an active role in managing her money. And when Hetty tries to prevent her from further helping Jasper, Sara does the coolest thing she’s done at this point. She finally plays the “I’m leaving and moving back in with my Nanny Louisa” card. And to the surprise of no one: It works. Sara is still a kid, but between that and the earlier scene where she impersonates Hetty’s voice during her phone call to the bank, she cleverly and boldly uses her resources for, frankly, a greater good. And Hetty complies because their relationship has simply matured since the last season when Hetty wouldn’t even allow Sara to buy a nice dress.

But the prominent relationship at display in this episode is the one between Hetty and Olivia and Jasper. Let’s get this straight. Olivia could have married the whitest, most well behaved most reliable billionaire doctor, part time reverend, with no plans of ever leaving Avonlea because he’s afraid of the ocean…and Hetty would still have found a problem with him. If Hetty had her way, both Olivia and their deceased sister Rose would have stayed spinsters, like her, for the rest of their lives. Alec and the other brother who we all forget about can be in charge of preserving the King name. The point is, Hetty hates change. And Jasper is change. Jasper marrying Olivia and whisking her away has changed the dynamic of the King family. So, of course, Hetty spends most of the episode going after Jasper and his silly little ideas. While Hetty wanting to save Avonlea from becoming gentrified is totally justified, her utter disrespect for Olivia and Jasper and their family is not. And Hetty realizes that. She realizes that her malice towards Jasper is not only hurting Olivia, but it’s also affecting any emotional development she had with Sara. When Hetty goes to apologize to Jasper and to allow him to keep the camera, she realizes that he and Jasper have something in common: They want to preserve the memory of Avonlea and the memories and values the town holds dear to its heart. So, in the end, the two work together, create a film of the town to show to the people, so they can see that Avonlea is perfect the way it is.

This show can be cyclical. Does this episode mark the end of Hetty…well being Hetty? Towards Olivia? Towards Jasper? No. But I suppose that’s how life works. There are no clean conclusions. Up until the literal end of the series, Hetty will bash Jasper. But we can at least appreciate this moment: The moment when Hetty finally asks for Jasper’s help and takes him seriously. A big fat (A+)

Spotlight Performance and Favorite Scene: So, it goes without saying that this episode is this episode because of that last scene when Hetty showcases Jasper’s movie for the town. However, let’s talk about a few moments that pretty much lead us to that scene. This episode gives us four really wonderful performances, but, of course, only one actor can get their name boldened. Season four is Sarah Polley’s (and I’d say her character’s) peak. She was nominated for her last Gemini for her work on this show for “Moving On.” The producers made the right choice with that episode submission. However, she could have probably submitted this episode here because Polley has three great scenes. The first two are the ones when she is impersonating Hetty (she doesn’t really sound like Jackie Burroughs, but she gets like the mannerisms down and stuff) and the when Sara defends her actions for Hetty. However, the really great scene is the one where Sara and Olivia discuss Sara’s mother, and Sara tearfully admits she can barely remember what she looked like. It’s a surprisingly emotional and dramatic moment for an episode that, for the most part, doesn’t have the highest stakes (I mean, it’s not like someone is dying childbirth or something). It’s, of course, a poignant scene, considering Polley’s mother died right before the show aired its first season. And considering that a few decades later Polley would be releasing a documentary about her mother, with focuses on memories and home movies (many of them recreated for the documentary).

For the episode, itself, when Jasper overhears Sara crying over her mother, it’s that moment when he realizes that creating a better camera with a higher frame rate is more than just about the science and mechanics, it’s about preserving memories the best way possible so others with similar circumstances to Sara can have something to look back on. I have a confession…along with “hotel episodes”…I also think “Jasper invents something” episodes or, really, Jasper episodes as a whole, are pretty hit or miss. I mean, we all remember the “bats” episode, right? But, it goes without saying, this is the best Jasper episode of the series. And RH Thomson as Jasper is really great in this episode. He earned his only Gemini nomination for this role for this episode specifically; and I think it’s probably the scene towards the end when a dejected Jasper feeds Monty and tells him what he had hoped to accomplish with this new movie technology: to preserve a town’s legacy. But I think another strong moment is Jasper listening to Sara in that emotional scene, wordlessly realizing the potential importance of filmmaking. And, of course, Mag Ruffman as the faithful, yet strong headed wife of Jasper earns high marks.

jackie burroughs avonlea

But, again, this episode belongs to that last scene when Hetty presents the home movie to the town. It’s such a great scene. My favorite thing about the scene is the sound editing and mixing. John Welsman’s wonderful small town score overlaid with Hetty’s narration overlaid with the town’s laughter and “ooing and awing” is just perfect. It’s the scene that makes any fan of Avonlea tear up. It’s the one scene that truly represents the best and beautiful things about this small (sometimes closed-mindedjustsayin) town. I love scenes that feature a lot of the residents. From Hetty winning “Mother of the Year” to that season 2 finale hockey competition to Sara participating in that riding contest…the show is at its strongest when the town is fully engaged and present. And in the center of the town is Hetty, almost the town’s mother, certainly the town’s conscience, played by the incomparable Jackie Burroughs. Look at Burroughs’ eyes during her final plea to keep the town. It’s not the first time Hetty’s been vulnerable. She’s vulnerable a lot in the series. And Burroughs plays vulnerability so well, every single time. And this episode, that moment, is no different. Hetty’s unbending love of town and tradition will come through in deeper, darker ways in the next few seasons, but, right now, this is the episode that shows a more idyllic, more innocent view of Hetty’s love and dedication for Avonlea. In the end, I think this episode is about Hetty more than anyone else.

Final Thoughts: So I mentioned earlier that RH Thomson received a Gemini nomination for this episode. Marlene Matthews also received her second nomination for writing the episode. (Her first was for, I’m strongly assuming, “Aunt Hetty’s Ordeal.”) Season four was a strange season when the show didn’t receive a lot of award nominations (although they did win that Emmy for Children’s Programming). I don’t understand how the season that gave us this episode could be snubbed a Gemini nomination for Drama Series. Sometimes, I think Gemini voters thought they were a little too cool for this family show. It’s a shame, because it’s the show that most people still remember. Anyway…well deserved nominations.

John Welsman also deserved a nomination for his work here. Although, he was nominated for a Gemini that year, for his work in the Sullivan miniseries By Way of the Stars (which starred a few Avonlea cast members). He competed against fellow composer Don Gillis for “Moving On.” (Neither of them won.) Towards the latter half of Avonlea, it seems like Welsman had a lesser musical role on the show, while Gillis (and, later, newer various composers) was creating the new motifs, some which would be carried over to Wind at My Back and those Anne reunion movies. This might be one of Welsman’s last truly original scores for the series. And it’s one of the most memorable overall particularly during that scene. That motif is so simple, and…it just reminds me of home and family and community. It’s the kind of score that reminds me of farm work and baking pies for a Sunday picnic. During seasons five and six, the score will be used for Davey episodes. The score certainly fits the character, and will be particularly well used in “A Friend in Need.” But, I feel like despite that, this is the episode that truly defines what that score means.

I don’t know where I can confirm this. It might have been from one of the message boards on the official website or Avonlea Guide…but, apparently, for a short while, season four was considered the last, and this was a potential series finale. The show, during its time, was sort of at the mercy of Disney Channel. It had an unusually high budget and production value for a Canadian series, and Disney was very important to the show’s success. So, after every season, the show was usually in limbo until the cast and crew got the greenlight from Disney to make more episodes. So, every season finale (except season 6, really) has some sort of air of finality. We all know that the season 1 finale was intended to be the “finale finale.” We all know that, in the beginning of season 2, the producers had to cruelly kill Sara’s father and leave her an orphan to justify Sara living in Avonlea indefinitely. So, it’s possible this episode was written with, at least, a soft expectation that it would be the last. There’s actually one more season 4 episode after this…but, if need be, these last two episodes could have simply been switched, right? Anyway, what I’m getting at is…I’m so thankful the show got three more seasons. Some of the show’s best moments have yet to come. However…this would have made a very good, appropriate finale. And, y’know, some fans who aren’t terribly big fans of the last three seasons probably wish this had been the finale. But that’s crazy talk! Being taken aback by “new Cecily” is part of the Avonlea experience, whether you like it or not! Humph!

I have one last point. So, the other day, I watched Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on opening night. It’s a fictional story about an American war hero who comes home for a two week victory tour in 2004. I mostly watched the movie because it was receiving Oscar buzz before the really mixed reviews came out. Overall, I still don’t know what to make of the movie. It’s a really strange movie, a lot of it having to do with how it was shot. Ang Lee pretty much used a super high frame right, almost five times what’s usually used. So, there are a lot of close-ups and two person scenes where the camera constantly switches back between the first speaker and the second. There are only a small number of theatres in the world that can truly accommodate this new technology. Most other people (including me) can only watch this movie on a normal screen. So…the cinematography (unlike Avonlea smiley face) doesn’t actually look all that great. I’m guessing you only notice anything if you watch the movie in one of the fancy special theatres.

The point is…the movie has received a lot of criticism for taking this HFR risk. Even I wondered why Ang Lee would attempt to try this, especially considering how difficult it was shoot the movie. And knowing that Lee probably won’t be winning any Oscars for the movie, I wondered if maybe the movie would have been better received if he had shot it like, well, a normal movie in the year 2016. However, after revisiting this episode, and seeing Jasper’s attempts at achieving HFR, and seeing the joy it gives the town (and himself) I now have a higher appreciation for what Ang Lee was trying to do. Did he fully succeed? I can’t answer that question myself. Many reviewers claimed that the HFR was jarring and straight up unsettling. But…isn’t that how people reacted to color? Or sound? Or even moving pictures as a whole? It will be a long time before 120 frames per second is the norm…but I admire that Ang Lee tried something new and took a risk.

And that’s one of the main themes in this episode: taking risks. Jasper, as an inventor, does that throughout the entire series. Sometimes he’s cheered. Most of time, he’s called a “kook.” But it’s encouraging to see characters like Sara and Olivia give their trust to Jasper and support his whims because everything we have right now, all the technological advances, from touch screen laptops to mechanical pencils, is because we are fortunate to live in a world of Jaspers, people who go the extra mile, when everyone else thinks life is perfect the way it is. Even Hetty realizes that if she wants to save her town from turning into a mini New York City (or worse…MONTREAL!!), then she has to embrace Jasper’s newfangled technology as well. Progress can serve all purposes, even a purpose that’s maybe counter to progress. It’s an interesting wormhole to think about. But that’s what makes this episode the best of the series. So many varied points of view, working together, as one.

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5 thoughts on “Road to Avonlea Review: Home Movie

  1. Pingback: Road to Avonlea Review: Hearth and Home | Lifestories

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