Donna has just been convicted of impaired driving and is sentenced to hours of community service. She lives alone in a serviceable apartment, her only company empty bottles of wine, and regret. Her grown daughter wants nothing to do with her. Serving her time at an animal shelter, Donna gets the grubby, unenviable tasks, which she performs uncomplainingly. She moves through her day, from scrubbing out cages, to alcohol counseling, back home to her wine, with little fuss, and little engagement. It’s not until a mangy scruffball named Charlie is scheduled to be put down that we see Donna’s softer side. She begs her boss to allow Charlie to come home with her instead; Charlie is old, and sick, but she vows to take good care of him for his remaining days.

Her relief is obvious. Estranged from her daughter, isolated in her little apartment, Charlie is the first sign of affection we’ve seen from Donna. The feeling is so satisfying that Donna doesn’t stop at just one. Pretty soon her small apartment is brimming with pets and still she can’t stop bringing them home.

Shan MacDonald is wonderful as Donna. She doesn’t try to pretty her up, or make her more likable. Donna is tough, and MacDonald rises to the occasion.

Murmur was a little slow to engage me as Donna’s life is bleak, and has so little personal connection. But the dogs open her up in a lovely, tragic, humane way. It becomes easy to guess at the many ways in which Donna may relate to the dogs, may see herself in them. She certainly seems to find companionship easier with animals that with humans. Her social isolation is heart-breaking, and the film really manages to say something meaningful about addictions – empathetic without letting anyone off the hook.

Friday, September 6, Jackman Hall (AGO), 8:45PM
Saturday, September 7, Scotiabank, 3 PM
Sunday, September 15, Scotiabank, 3:30 PM