Before I Change My Mind: The War of Adolescence

Set in 1987, Before I Change My Mind follows Robin (Vaughan Murrae), a youth who moves to Alberta with his father after his parents’ divorce. While other kids question whether or not Robin is a boy or a girl, he begins to form a complex friendships with Carter (Dominic Lippa), the school bully. As they grow closer, Carter pushes Robin to make increasingly dangerous choices in order to fit in with the group. Things become even more complicated when they both draw the eye of a new student, causing tension between them.

Directed by Trevor Anderson (who also co-wrote), Before I Change My Mind is a beautiful and edgy look at coming-of-age in a time of ignorance, anger and insecurity. By setting the film in the 80s, Anderson will likely draw comparison to classic John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Although these characters are younger, Before I Change is infused with the same sort of angst that marked Hughes’ work.

But, unlike other coming-of-age stories, Before I Change seems to be less about stepping into adulthood than it does being overwhelmed by it. Whereas some films portray growing up as an obstacle to overcome, the concept of maturity in this film seems daunting. Grappling with complex emotions, we watch as these youth experiment with alcohol, violence and sexuality and struggling with their feelings. As a result, they seem to be floating through life, not knowing who they are or where they belong. 

And that’s why the film feels so authentic.

To be clear, all of these kids simply feel real. Featuring strong performances by the entire young cast, Before I Change understands the challenges that come with adolescence. Whether they’re exploring adult magazines or asking grownups to buy beer, one can’t help but empathize with them as they walk the line between maturity and childhood. These are simply young people trying to become young adults. But, at the same time, one can absolutely see the struggle within them.

As a non-binary character in the 1980s, Robin is attempting to navigate a sexual landscape that simply didn’t have language for them yet. Looking to find safety in an unwelcoming environment, Tony is refused the right of his name in favour of the despised ‘Marnold’. Even Izzy seems confused about what (or who) she wants to be involved with.

But, perhaps, this is most true in the case of Carter, a bully who seems unsure about every aspect of his life. In some moments, Carter has fire in his belly. Unwilling to be pushed around by anyone (except a few particular girls), he carries himself with bravado and an angry glare. However, as his friendship with Robin grows, we begin to see another side of him. We see the situation inside his home and how it has shaped his heart. We see a boy who wants to care for someone else and, potentially, get into a relationship.

But, mostly, we see a kid who’s scared.

For Carter, these feelings seem overpowering. Even as we watch him deal with his friends, we’re never entirely sure if we’re seeing the real Carter. After all,, Carter is burdened with the pressure of becoming… something. Caught between the lines of repression and expression, the terror in his eyes is palpable as he attempts to navigate the confusion of youth. (“What are you?” he’s asked… And he doesn’t have an answer.) 

But Carter is far from alone in his journey fumbling towards adulthood. Every youth in his class seems to be trying to ask the same questions about what it means to be a human person as opposed to ‘just a kid’. While Carter and Robin may be the primary focus, the other pre-teens carry the same scared look in their eyes. 

In this way, Anderson taps into the insecurities of a generational moment. Before I Change My Mind leans hard into that time in everyone’s life when we have to decide what type of person we’re going to be. Infused with fear, this is a time that everyone experiences in one way or another, no matter what decade they’re in.

Before I Change My Mind is available in theatres on Friday, April 19th, 2024

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