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Review: Guitar Lessons

February 24, 2023

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Shot on a tight budget in Alberta, Guitar Lessons is a small Canadian drama from writer-director Aaron James (Hank Williams First Nation).

The film stars Canadian country singer Corb Lund in his first leading role as Ray Mitchell, a former musician turned ornery oilfield worker who is befriended by Leland (Kaden Noskiye), a 15-year-old Métis boy who has inherited an old guitar from a father he didn’t know, and wants Ray to teach him how to play.

First and foremost, Guitar Lessons is a well-meaning film that does have some nice moments, but it’s an uneven effort overall, not only due to the obvious budgetary constraints. The blocking and performances can feel slightly amateurish, especially in the first half, and the characters are also inconsistent in their development.

A scene where Ray chews out the woman at the bank feels jarring with no real buildup, and the arrival of an ex-girlfriend comes out of nowhere. The film’s tone often feels awkwardly balanced, with several sketch-like comedic scenes involving Ernie (Conway Kootenay), a Métis man who works for Ray on a contract basis, that are mildly amusing but don’t quite mesh with the more dramatic moments.

The film meanders a bit too much, and the story feels somewhat stretched thin at 100 minutes, as it takes a while to even get to the titular lessons. But Guitar Lessons does find its footing in the last act, as the characters come together through a series of nicely delivered dialogue-driven scenes (including a stirring extended conversation involving Ernie that suggests a more layered character than we have been given). While the road getting there is rough, these moments redeem this flawed but well-intentioned homegrown film.

Guitar Lessons opens exclusively in theatres in limited release on February 24th. It’s being distributed in Canada by Extra Butter Pictures.

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