TIFF 2017: 'Never Steady, Never Still'

The troubled characters in this film deserve a more complex, nuanced approach.

Never Steady, Never Still

Director: Kathleen Hepburn
Cast: Shirley Henderson, Théodore Pellerin, Mary Galloway
Studio: Christie Street Creative, Experimental Forest Films
Year: 2017
Release date: 2017-09-07 (Canada)

Kathleen Hepburn’s feature debut, Never Steady, Never Still, viewed at Toronto International Film Festival 2017, leaves a lot to be desired. Théodore Pellerin stars as Jamie, a young, aimless man living in Alberta, Canada. He struggles with his identity and sexuality while his mother, Judy (Shirley Henderson) attempts to deal with the progressing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. But with underdeveloped characters who rely on garish representations of difficulty, the film is never sensitive enough to its subjects.

Henderson’s representation of disability feels has a sheen of masquerade as she pulls faces and behaves grotesquely, surrounded by the knowledge that she's putting on the act of an illness that true sufferers can never escape and that others understand far more deeply. For a brief section of the film, we get a better sense of Judy’s life. First cared for by her husband, when he passes she must live on her own. We watch as daily activities become more difficult for her, and we see how she is judged harshly by able-bodied people in the community. But this sojourn into Judy’s characterization is brief and abandoned in favour of an expansion of Jamie's story.

While Judy struggles to perform everyday tasks, Jamie, meanwhile, spends his time grappling with potential queerness -- something which only truly crystallizes by the film’s third act. He otherwise spends the runtime harassing girls, hanging around misogynistic boys, and receiving a blow job from a sex worker, playing on the stereotype that men who aggressively act out their homophobia and misogyny are doing it out of shame of their queerness -- something which demonizes gay men more than it does a society which stigmatizes sexuality.

Despite the final articulation of Jamie’s confusion, the film culminates in a sexual encounter with a woman. It's the 17-year-old Kaly (Mary Galloway) who guides Jamie through his first truly pleasurable sexual experience, and Kaly thus fulfills her roles as a manic pixie dream girl who may re-instill a sense of heterosexuality in questioning men.

Disability is synonymous with tragedy, and gay men might be construed hateful losers who can be saved by sex with women. With cold grey tones and shaky handheld filming, Never Steady, Never Still has the visuals of a typical, serious, austere drama. But paired with its lack of nuance in characters necessitating complexity, the film moves from formally boring to potentially offensive and absurd.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.