The cautionary tale "1:54" reconfirms that teenagers can be cruel even in genteel Canada, coming out as gay is still rife with difficulty, and that social media can be a conduit for evil.
Unfortunately, writer-director Yan England never focuses on any one lesson long enough to make a complete or satisfying statement. The result: a potentially meaningful movie that hands us a double dose of despair when a ray of hope was needed.
Tim (Antoine Olivier Pilon, deeply affecting) is a closeted Quebec teen attracted to his best friend and science lab partner, the also-gay Francis (Robert Naylor). But school bullies, led by track star Jeff (Lou-Pascal Tremblay), drive Francis to suicide, leaving Tim, a one-time runner himself, to seek revenge. Tim's weapon of choice: to best Jeff in his event, the 800-meters. (1:54 is the race time to beat.)
Tim's got his widower dad (David Boutin), the coach (Patrice Godin) and much of the track team, including savvy Jennifer (Sophie Nélisse), on his side, though Jeff and his ilk threaten to out Tim as gay if he doesn't quit. Suffice to say, no good comes of all this.
It's too bad because, although the film means to embrace tolerance and LGBTQ youth, a viewing of it could scare a kid back into the closet — without leaving much sense of what being gay is really about.
In French with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills