1964 85 mins
“Kent’s films could only be described as ‘gutsy’ and SWEET SUBSTITUTE is probably his gutsiest” – Joan Fox, TORONTO STAR
“Kent’s self-effacing camera allows Howay, his women and his buddies ample opportunity to work out their relationships as artlessly as possible, and the result is a traditional rite of passage that appears as relevant today as it did in the sixties” – Sam Kula, “Buried Treasures” Festival of Festivals, 9th International Film Festival, Toronto, 1984
With SWEET SUBSTITUTE
), Larry Kent shocked Vancouver once again with an uncompromising portrait of coming-of-age high-schoolers. Tom (Robert Howay) is a lower-middle-class teenager, a pre-Benjamin Braddock, facing all the pressures and confusions of the era, but here no-one is suggesting “plastic” as a solution. Tom’s attention is divided between the need to impress his teacher to gain a scholarship and his teenage lust. For the latter, another choice confronts Tom: he struggles to impress his conventional girlfriend Elaine, while his relationship to Cathy, his study buddy with a Bohemian streak, allows Tom to feel liberated. In the tempest in a teapot of Tom’s life, something must give.
Building on the success of THE BITTER ASH
, Kent workshopped the script with his cast, giving the film its verité feel. Shot in the summer of 1964, it premiered that fall at University of British Columbia. Afterwards, the film toured Canadian universities, and earned a Special Jury Mention at the Montreal Film Festival, and a Best Picture nomination at the 17th Canadian Film Awards before obtaining distribution in the US via New York City grindhouse impresarios Joseph Brenner Associates.
Critics were mixed, with female critics coming out as pro-Kent, while their male counterparts remained hostile to the director. Joan Fox of the Globe & Mail praised the film as “gutsy” and Kent as “the poet of the petit bourgeois,” whereas Les Wedman (Toronto Star) offered faint praise, noting Kent “has made two movies, one bad, one good, and both moneymakers.”
In the end, Kent’s portrait of youth showed them not to be proverbial rebels, but instead to cling to the safety of the dictates of the dominant order. Free to choose, and to make the wrong choices. – David Douglas