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Canadian Film Fest Review: When Time Got Louder

March 29, 2023

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

The 2023 Canadian Film Fest runs from March 28th to April 1st, with films screening in-person at Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto and virtually on Super Channel Fuse.

The debut film from writer-director Connie Cocchia, When Time Got Louder is a Canadian family drama that explores how a tight-knit family unit changes when older sister Abbie (Willow Shields) goes away to art school in California, leaving her 17-year-old non-speaking autistic brother Kayden (Jonathan Simao) with their parents Mark (Lochlyn Munro) and Tish (Elizabeth Mitchell).

The film is largely built around the close bond between Abbie and Kayden, and Cocchia does try to explore their unique sibling dynamic with a handful of sweet moments between them. But the overall execution of When Time Got Louder unfortunately turns it into a dreary melodrama about disability, told mostly from the perspective of the neurotypical family members.

One of the biggest issues lies in the fractured narrative framing device; the story is told in flashbacks as Kayden is in the hospital, with the family being interviewed by a social worker who expresses concerns for their safety. This means that, for large stretches of the film, Kayden is barely even given his own agency, with him passed out in a hospital bed as Cocchia’s screenplay tries to weave a mystery out of how he got there. The problem is not only that this centres the narrative around his family, but this framing device also feels exploitative, with the film doing a somewhat gross bait-and-switch to keep us questioning what Kayden has done.

The main subplot involves Abbie’s burgeoning relationship with Karly (Ava Capri), a girl at her school, which is complicated by the fact that Abbie is not out to her family. The overly sappy romantic scenes between Abbie and Karly clash somewhat with the rest of the film, with dialogue that tries too hard to be cutesy and clever but falls into the uncanny valley of not sounding natural. While Abbie is away, Kayden starts to have more frequent meltdowns, with his father trying to push him out into the world on his own or put him in a group home, as Abbie is the only one who can calm him down. Despite good intentions, the handling of these storylines can feel somewhat stereotyped.

While Shields, who is probably best known for playing Primrose Everdeen in the Hunger Games films, does show some dramatic promise in the lead, Munroe and Mitchell deliver overwrought performances as the parents. Simao delivers the strongest performance and is able to believably portray Kayden, with the film getting points for authentically casting an autistic actor in the role. The main problem is that this is a film built entirely around tropes (the not out to family trope, the dad pushing his disabled son too hard trope, the mother struggling to cope but not ready to let go trope), and it ends up feeling outdated in several regards.

The film’s questionable storytelling devices and often downbeat tone (many scenes are overscored by depressing, minimalistic music), undercuts any positive attempts at representation. The film also drags somewhat at nearly two hours. There are better options out there for stories about autistic characters, including the Netflix show Atypical (which this film seems to borrow several elements from), and the even better series As We See It.

Willow Shields and Jonathan Simao in When Time Got Louder

When Time Got Louder screens on Wednesday, March 29th at 7:00 PM ET, at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto and on Super Channel. Tickets and more information can be found right here.

The film will also be opening in limited release in Toronto and Vancouver on March 31st.

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