Hot Docs Review: ‘L.A. Tea Time’

Sophie Bédard-Marcotte introduces herself as a creative force with her droll feature

7 mins read

L.A. Tea Time
(Canada, 82 min.)
Dir. Sophie Bédard-Marcotte
Program: Markers

“Hi, Miss July. Um…hi, Miranda? Hi, my name is Sophie and I am a filmmaker based in Montreal,” director Sophie Bédard-Marcotte says to the camera early in L.A. Tea Time. These hesitant and slightly quirky remarks become a running mantra in the film. L.A. Tea Time sees Bédard-Marcotte embark on a futile quest to land a coffee date with filmmaker, author, and Hollywood eccentric Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know). Bédard-Marcotte wants to pick July’s brain and learn how one forges a career making offbeat indie films. However, tea with Miss July seems like a mere ruse for the madcap road trip on which Bédard-Marcotte and her partner-in-crime Isabelle Stachtchenko jaunt from ho-hum Quebec to glitzy Hollywood. Even if meeting July is improbable from the outset, the wacky adventure proves Bédard-Marcotte could be a worthy protégé.

Bédard-Marcotte and Stachtchenko evoke a Sofia Bohdanowicz/Deragh Campbell tag-team vibe as they explore new spaces between fiction and non-fiction. The persona of the Miranda July fangirl mostly serves as a surrogate for Bédard-Marcotte’s anxieties over making a career in filmmaking. The friends, both starving artists, struggle to realise their ambitions as creative types working on the outskirts of Montreal. (Bédard-Marcotte humorously explains to July in a letter that she earns her living by translating online hotel reviews.) Their search ultimately aks if and how a young woman who shares July’s artistic inclinations can enjoy a similar success in Montreal.

When the two friends roam a dirt road in rural Quebec, filming hills and parched grass, Stachtchenko wonders if they’ve seen enough. “It’s all the same,” the director replies as the film keeps rolling while they traverse the countryside. This kind of environment might not be obvious training ground for the next Miranda July, but the filmmakers playfully tap into the sense that there’s little else to do in Quebec besides explore one’s artistic impulses with a creative essay on socio-cultural determinism.

L.A. Tea Time captures the friends’ travels through a series of vignettes that illustrate the pleasures and perils of cheap DIY filmmaking. For example, Bédard-Marcotte feels like grooving to some tunes by Robyn during the drive, but wonders if the licensing fee is cost prohibitive. She turns the music on anyway and simply cuts the audio on her film. It’s amusing to watch the two women roll through the streets silently, exchanging murmurings about budget woes through subtitles. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention. L.A. Tea Time reminds a viewer that a shoestring budget isn’t necessarily a barrier to ingenuity.

Stachtchenko asks her director at one point if they should try to meet some “real people,” like folks do in documentaries. The filmmakers therefore inject their road trip with some choice encounters. A chorus of colourful characters enliven the odyssey as the friends drive through America’s heartland. The stops include, but are not limited to, visits with a yogi, a gas station with a “God Bless Trump” billboard, and a scene in which the friends agree to visit Japan in 2020 with an over-eager protestor. The latter scene is darkly hilarious when one realizes that COVID-19 saved the day and got Bédard-Marcotte and Stachtchenko out of the trip.

The aim of the journey might be to find Miranda July, but L.A. Tea Time strikes gold when the two young women befriend an overall-clad iced-tea guzzling hillbilly at a roadside dive. He eerily remarks how nice and soft Sophie is before asking if Isabella (who is filming) “is the girl with the black bra strap.” He then shows off his vintage Route 66 road sign (allegedly the first from Oklahoma in 1926) and busts out a scratchy and booze-fuelled rendition of “Route 66” with his guitar as the girls watch in dumbfound awe. If the road trip teaches these young women anything, it’s how to be bold and brave with some extremely sketchy strangers.

The film chronicles the friends’ adventures with a deadpan sense of humour. Wide shots captured in Academy-ratio widescreen lend a droll air to the wide-open landscapes in which the friends find themselves hopelessly lost. Similarly, Bédard-Marcotte’s commitment to playing the Miranda July fangirl ultimately lets her find her niche as a filmmaker as she wonders if Chantal Ackerman (RIP) might offer better insight. Although Bédard-Marcotte and July have more in common in terms of their temperaments and offbeat personalities, the director displays a greater affinity for Ackerman’s work in her ability to find artful truth in the mundane aspects of daily life.

If Bédard-Marcotte has to go to Hollywood to make her mark, so be it. One could say she does with this film, albeit on a Montreal-sized scale.

L.A. Tea Time screens at Hot Docs’ online festival.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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