By Liam Lacey
The subject of teenage abuse and sex trafficking is of the moment though, in many ways, it always has been. Apart from some graphic language, there’s little in the drama Honey Bee that couldn’t have been on television decades ago: for example, the 1976 NBC movie, Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway, starring The Brady Bunch’s Eve “Jan Brady” Plumb, as a runaway coerced by a pimp.
This first fiction feature from documentary filmmaker Rama Rau stars the credible Julia Sarah Stone (Weirdos, TV’s Aftermath) as a waifish teen with a cartoon blue pixie hair-do. The guy she considers her boyfriend, Ryan (Steven Love) has a James Dean pompadour and silky manner, and works several young women out of a Northern Ontario motel, selling sex to truckers in the cabs of their vehicles. One night, one of Honey Bee’s client pulls out a set of handcuffs: He’s a cop and she’s busted.
After this seamy start, Honey Bee unfolds as a mix of the generic and the haphazard. Honey Bee, now going by her birth name Nathalie, is sent to live on a farm. Her foster mother Louise (Martha Plimpton) is the kind of woman who knocks back a bottle of beer with her dinner and takes no guff. Presumably, Louise is intended to come across as a salty country character, though in reality, her version of tough love might trigger a child services investigation. She yanks earphones out of Nathalie’s ears when she thinks she’s being ignored. Later, she tosses her ward’s beloved phone into a fish bowl full of water.
Nathalie is obliged to go to high school, where she gets a detention because she loses her temper and shows entirely too much knowledge in sex-ed class. (I have a feeling Honey Bee is a movie that ends up getting shown in that kind of class). As Natalie tones down the acting out, she develops empathy with her two foster siblings, the straitlaced cute boy Matt (Connor Price) and the emotionally childlike Chante (Michelle McLeod). In a perplexing climactic scene, the three teenagers attend a bush party and bond over underage substance abuse.
Before Natalie can complete her journey to freedom, though, she has a reckoning with her ex-boyfriend and pimp, a showdown that proves, to anyone foolish enough to doubt it, that men who sell teenaged girls really can’t be trusted.
Honey Bee. Directed by Rama Rau. Written by Bonnie Fairweather and Kathleen Hepburn. Starring Julia Sarah Stone, Steven Love, and Martha Plimpton. Opens September 20 at Toronto’s Cineplex Yonge-Dundas.