Pat Mills as a vodka-swilling, bike-riding high school guidance counselor in his film “Guidance.” | STRAND RELEASING
“Guidance,” written and directed by Pat Mills, is an amusing Canadian comedy about David Gold (Mills), a former “gentle voiced” childhood actor now an adult in deep denial. Broke and ignoring his drinking problem, his stage 3 melanoma, and his homosexuality, David passes himself off as Roland Brown to get a job as a guidance counselor at a local high school. His inappropriate conduct with students — he does vodka shots with the teens to boost their confidence and trades alcohol for weed — generates many of the film’s laughs. Mills demonstrates some smart — and smartass — comic talent in the film before it takes a dark turn.
In a Skype session with Gay City News to discuss “Guidance,” the filmmaker revealed that he wasn’t initially going to play David. “The plan was to cast it,” Mills said.
The filmmaker himself had been a child actor on “You Can’t Do That On Television” decades ago, but he stopped acting when he was 13. He returned to the industry about seven years ago to direct several short films. After producers saw Mills’ rapport with the teens auditioning for “Guidance,” he became their choice for the role.
“Sleeping with the director for 20 years finally paid off!,” he quipped.
Pat Mills’ own struggles with self-image inform his comic look at lost man hoping to survive as youth leader
David is a troubled man, which is what makes him behave badly but also makes him interesting. He suffers from a terrible self-image, particularly regarding his penis, an obsession tied to the denial of his sexuality. In one scene, he stands naked in front of a mirror hiding his junk from himself, a visual metaphor for his repressed emotions.
Mills candidly acknowledged that his own negative feelings about his penis are reflected in the film.
“I had a period where I was disconnected with it because I wasn’t using it for the right reasons,” he said.
When asked about his journey to self-acceptance, the filmmaker puts his head in his hands, almost hoping to avoid having to answer.
“It’s an ongoing process,” he admitted. “I’m not quite there yet. You learn confidence by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations over and over again. I agreed to play David to force myself to deal with my own image during a long editing process. No homosexual likes to hear their voice or see how they act. That was a step toward self-acceptance. In the process of making the movie, I got used to myself and sick of myself, and once you realize you’re not as precious as you think you are, you get over your bullshit.”
Mills delivers a strong performance in “Guidance,” and his flair for comedy generates many of the film’s laughs. David’s flustered exit from a convenience store and his rapport as he drinks with his teenage charges are very funny.
The actor explained how he “found” the character.
“Once my hair got parted and I put on those glasses, I became this manic, oddly caffeinated version of myself and Pee-wee Herman. Doing those scenes, we had not a lot of time. We had 10 minutes to shoot the convenience store scene, so I was manic, and that helped the performance. Because I was behind the desk and drinking all the [fake] vodka, I had to pee throughout the movie, so that informed my performance, too,” Mills said with a laugh.
As a high school student, Mills admitted, he “was as awkward as it gets. I didn’t have any friends and I had really long hair. This was in the 90s, and my voice hadn’t broken yet, so everyone thought I was a girl. My name is Pat. That put me in an interesting spot in the hierarchy of high school.”
Ironically, today, Mills gets along with teenagers better than he does with adults.
“At family events, I always sit with the kids!” he exclaimed, flush with a sense of pride.
Mills is an unabashed fan of teen films and made “Guidance” for people who also enjoy teen movies. This may explain why the kids are the stronger characters — far more interesting than the teachers. He wanted “Guidance” to be a broad comedy, but more “specific and dark” like the American films “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Citizen Ruth,” from two decades ago, and the more recent “Young Adult.” He explained he admires those films for “taking a dark subject such as addiction and immaturity and deal[ing] with it in a light way.”
By that measure, “Guidance” is a success. The film creates a character whose downward spiral is played for laughs. Or as Mills confessed, “David comes from me at my best and my worst. He’s a fuck-up who really wants to help people. I felt like that in my life.”
GUIDANCE| Directed by Pat Mills | Strand Releasing | Opens Aug. 21 | City Cinema’s Village East Cinema, 189 Second Ave. at E. 12th St.; citycinemas.com