Road movies might be the great Canadian genre. From “Goin’ Down the Road” to “Highway 61” generations of Canadians have travelled from Cape Spear to Tofino in search of story, enlightenment and cold cans of Molson Export. With ruggedly beautiful terrain in the background and characters criss-crossing in the foreground, our filmmakers have often hit the road in search of cinematic success.
The latest Canadian director to hit the road is Kire Paputts. In his feature debut he tells the story of Eugene (Dylan Harman), a nineteen-year-old man with Down syndrome. When we first meet Eugene he’s living with his mom in a cramped Toronto apartment. She lies in bed hacking up a lung, her smoker’s cough filling the air, as and he fills his time watching “The Littlest Hobo,” the great canine Canadian traveller, on TV while drawing pictures of rainbows. “They say that at the end of the rainbow there is a pot of gold,” he says. “If I found the pot of gold I would buy video games.” He believes rainbows are a symbol of hope, so when tragedy strikes he sets off across country, on a bicycle with training wheels, greeting strangers with a simple question, “Have you seen the rainbow?”
By their nature road movies are episodic. The great ones tie their segments together thematically, building on a central thesis. “The Rainbow Kid” plays itself out in chapters but feels more like a series of random situations banged together to form a whole rather than a complete narrative that runs from start to finish. There are highlights along the way. Eugene’s rainbow hunt yields Elvis Grimes—Julian Richings doing a memorable riff on his “Hard Core Logo” character Bucky Haight—and Anna (Krystal Hope Nausbaum), a young special needs girl who introduces our hero to the carnal side of her nature.
To the film’s credit, as these segments drift together, Paputts is fearless his treatment of Eugene and the story. The tale takes a dark, unexpected turn near the end, but the tone of the film is less important than the way it portrays Eugene’s single mindedness of pursuit. He’s on a hero’s journey and nothing—irate stepfathers, old rock stars or criminals—will stop him. “The Rainbow Kid” happens to have a character with a disability but doesn’t use its non-traditional lead as a gimmick. Instead Harman’s emotional, charming performance grounds the fanciful film in humanity.