Father Figure: Writer-Actor's Film About Dad-Daughter Road Trip Is One He Can Watch With His Kids… One Day

By Randall King
Winnipeg Free Press; April 14, 2016

Contacted by phone at his home in Toronto, Jonas Chernick ask if he can call back — he has to arrange a babysitter for his three-year-old daughter, Zoe.

A TV babysitter.

It sounds bad, but most parents have had to employ that strategy at some time or another. And as Chernick's character in the film Borealis proves, there are worse things a parent can do.

Case in point: Chernick's character, Jonah Finn, is a degenerate gambler. We first see him in a Winnipeg gambling den, going in debt to the tune of $96,000 to a nasty but weirdly ethical accountant/crime lord Tubby Finkelman (played by Kevin Pollak, Chernick's co-star in the 2004 film Seven Times Lucky). Jonah is also a widower who has been neglecting his troubled, pot-smoking 15-year-old daughter, Aurora (Joey King), even as the girl has been slowly losing her eyesight.

Pressured to come up with the cash he owes, Jonah's solution is to go on the lam with Aurora to Churchill, where she might be able to view the aurora borealis before she goes completely blind.

Directed by Chernick's frequent collaborator (and fellow Winnipeg homeboy) Sean Garrity, this unlikely road movie was scripted by Chernick, like his last collaboration with Garrity, the raunchy 2012 comedy My Awkward Sexual Adventure.

In fact, Borealis was a direct result of that film, in which Chernick played a sexually boring accountant on a mission to elevate his erotic game after his girlfriend abandons him.

Chernick, 42, says his wife, visual artist Nicole Kagan, "was mortified by that whole experience, understandably so."

"She said, 'Can you please make a movie that you can someday show our daughter?'

Chernick agreed to write a movie he could one day watch with his daughter Izzy, now six. While he was developing it, they had Zoe.

The result, while not sexually explicit, is not exactly an after-school special, either. The character of Jonah is a truly wretched father, duplicitous, irresponsible and broken.

"When I was writing it, I was purely thinking about character and story, and exploring a dad who is trying to make better choices, and mostly failing," Chernick says. "It wasn't until I had to put on the acting hat, which is always this weird transition for me, I realized how complicated he was and the extent of his bad-father behaviour.

"It really only became apparent to me when I read the script as an actor who was going to play the role," he says. "I know that sounds schizophrenic but it's true."

Shot in Winnipeg and southern Manitoba in the fall of 2014, the film isn't a flat-out comedy, as the premise might suggest.

"I think anyone going in to expect a comedy from the guys who made My Awkward Sexual Adventurealing with impending blindness, they're actually surprised by the comedy in it," Chernick says. "So it kind of lands in the sweet spot."

Tonally, Chernick was inspired by the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine, another road movie about a fractious family on a road trip to a junior beauty pageant.

"When you look at it, is a very dark story and the characters are very troubled but it's handled with a certain kind of gentle lightness in the comedy, so we tried to go that way with this," Chernick says. "To some degree, we succeeded."

The film opened in Toronto last weekend and Chernick says he has been "blown away" by the critical response, in addition to existing laurels, including awards for Garrity and King at the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto earlier this month.

"Really, the joy for me was from the reviews we got from the major papers — National Post, Toronto Star, Now, Globe and Mail — have certainly been the best of my career," he says. "The critical response has been incredibly validating for us."

Jonas Chernick and Sean Garrity will participate in a Q & A at the Friday, April 15, screenings of Borealis at the Grant Park cinemas. The 7:10 p.m. show is sold out, but tickets are available for the later show at 9:40 p.m.

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