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Film review: The Swearing Jar feels powerfully real

Based on a Fringe play, this musical romance earns the right to play with your emotions

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There’s more than a bit of Once in The Swearing Jar, adapted by writer Kate Hewlett from her 2008 play of the same name. But there’s also whole lot of originality in this beautiful new Canadian film. I only mention the Glen Hansard movie because it too mixed music, romance and deep emotions in a way that felt powerfully real, real enough to make you cry.

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Adelaide Clemens and Patrick J. Adams star as Carey and Simon, a young married couple who have been trying to get pregnant. One day, Simon comes home with news, but before he can deliver it Carey tells him she’s expecting. Unnoticed by her, Simon tucks away the piece of paper he was carrying, and if you think you know what’s on it, good for you. I’ll bet you’re wrong. But I’m not going to spoil it either. You’ll find out.

Anyway, we next see Carey visiting a bookstore, where a quiet, adorable clerk named Owen (Douglas Smith) tries a bit of awkward flirting that rubs her the right way. She doesn’t lead him on exactly, but she doesn’t tell him her relationship status either. And she comes back to see him again on pretense of shopping for an “art book.”

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I haven’t seen the play The Swearing Jar, which was at the Fringe in Toronto and New York and was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award. I presume it does something similar with the timeline of the story as director Lindsay MacKay and editor Lindsay Allikas achieve with brilliant and razor-sharp composition. This includes one shot that cuts from two people in a hospital hallway to a similar scene separated by something like seven years; a breathtaking move.

And I haven’t even got to Kathleen Turner, the Oscar nominee who delivers a fantastic performance (well of course she does!) as Simon’s mother, whose own husband cheated on her and then died. Hard to tell which betrayal stung her more, but she clearly hasn’t gotten over either. The Swearing Jar also packs a lot of in-law angst into its perfectly crafted hour-and-50-minute runtime.

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What else can one say without ruining the surprises in store? Only that the characters are so complicatedly real, in the script and the performance, that there were moments where I was certain Carey and Simon’s marriage was doomed, times I wanted it to be, and periods of feeling the exact opposite. The Swearing Jar will play with your emotions and your anticipations. But it will also earn every tug on your heartstrings, every reversal of expectation.

The Swearing Jar opens Nov. 4 in Toronto, and Dec. 2 in Vancouver.

4.5 stars out of 5

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