Review: FSM

On a fine Vancouver night, fresh from the festivities of Record Store Day, I most fittingly attended the first local screening of FSM, a film about the Vancouver DJ and indie music scene. Directed by Melanie M. Jones and starring Vanessa Crouch as Sam, the story’s driving force and budding electronic DJ, this movie aims to tackle the city’s dismal dating scene and the pitfalls of finding love as a young, creative woman. Sean Aiken joins in as Sam’s best friend, and George Daburas plays her boy-band love interest, both with sincerity. Sam has been steadily working her way up the night life scene behind the turn tables, and is lauded for her inventive mixes and comfortable presence.

But that comfortability does not translate into her romantic life, as we watch the ups and downs of the Vancouver dating cycle play out onscreen and through Sam’s specific experience. Additionally, her family life is strained, with her older sister constantly berating her laziness as a single person and urging her to take measures towards married life with kids, which is a far cry from what Sam wants. This is where FSM’s intention deviates from its message. There is frequent talk of the constraining and archaic nature of marriage throughout the film, but Sam’s clear objective is to find romantic love and pin herself to another person, which still speaks to commitment as ultimate goal. I found this thematic confusion to be a disappointment. I wanted so badly for Sam’s character to break from her obsession with romantic partnership and instead focus more fully on the strengths and capabilities within herself. Images and stories which reinforce the idea that self worth only comes from romantic validation overrun our culture, and this film, though it makes some effort to break away from that stereotype, only adds to the profusion of unsatisfying representation. I was waiting for Sam to realize that her success and happiness does not depend on her connections with mediocre men, and that her quest for confidence and easy carefree attitude do not have to ultimately lead to a coupling.

I also took issue with the film’s lack of solid female relationships. As already mentioned, Sam and her sister do not get along very well and spend all of their time together arguing about their respective love lives. Sam does connect more closely to a young girl whom she mentors at her summer camp job, but the age difference creates an imbalance which does not serve to fulfill the need for woman-to-woman exchange. All other female friendships are reduced to club connections, with no space for genuine communication over the din of the party scene. This lack did not honestly reflect the lives of twenty or thirty-something women, and it was frustrating for me to watch a character so isolated from the rewards of female friendship.

Despite the film’s weaknesses, I did appreciate the camaraderie and local support which went into the making of this film, especially the attention to local music and talent. In a Q&A period after the screening, director Melanie M. Jones revealed that out of the eighteen songs featured on the soundtrack, sixteen of them were written and performed by Vancouver artists. It was also said that local businesses and members of the community gladly gave their time and resources to the cast and crew, which speaks volumes about the possibilities for locally-funded artistic projects. I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing familiar Vancouver onscreen and playing itself, rather than disguised as another Hollywood metropolis. Furthermore, the acting in the film was also an indication of local talent and enthusiasm, with all members of the cast delivering worthy performances, especially Vanessa Crouch in her role as Sam. These positive qualities certainly stand out, but they are not enough to counteract the story’s shortcomings.

The trouble with FSM lies in its treatment of romantic relationship as reason for existence, or as practically the only worthy goal in a young person’s life. Sam, our protagonist, is entirely likable and possesses a great knack for creativity, but her quest for love did not captivate me as I so wanted it to. It is important to recognize the time and teamwork that went into the making of this home-grown feature, but it is also important to see the film from a narrative and thematic perspective, as it reinforces a flawed handling of love tied up in self-worth. I hope that the dismal state of Vancouver’s dating scene and the people who struggle within it can be more forwardly explored in films to come, and still with just as much local support.