The year is 1969, the place is an Ontario suburb, and the Field family's fragile domestic peace is coming to an end. The story is told in loops and flashbacks. With the opening and final scenes at Niagara Falls, the bulk of the film depicts the events leading to the funeral scene shown at the beginning. In the background looms the tragedy of the suspicious death years ago of the first-born son; a pervasive and never spoken of subject.
The household is ruled by Jim Field basing on his experiences in the military, as is illustrated by a flashback sequence to the two weeks he forced his family to spend trapped in the self-built backyard bomb shelter, for "practice". Jim works as a used-car salesman and he is keen on keeping up appearances in front of the neighbors. He is psychologically unstable, drinks heavily and cheats on his wife although he is also oddly protective of her, insisting that his daughters watch her all the time. His depressed wife Mary, a onetime dancer, has escaped into apathy and alcoholism a long time ago. She lives a catatonic life on the living room couch, staring absently at the television, her ever-present coffee cup full of whiskey impassively filled by one family member or the other.
Each of the three teenaged daughters has her own way to cope with the deleterious family atmosphere. They try to make their own experiences while struggling with their family duties and concern for their mother. Norma is the eldest daughter and the most responsible element of the family; quiet, subdued and selfless, she overburdens herself with domestic tasks and responsibilities, and patiently puts up with her father's antics. She is also the only one intent on keeping the memory of her brother and on uncovering the secret around his death. After unexpectedly becoming friends with a neighboring girl, she lets some pleasure into her dreary life. As the opposite of Norma, middle child Lou fights for her independence, standing up to her father and loving her mother but despising her weakness. She assuages her fantasies of rebellion, experimenting with boys and drugs. Not as involved as Norma in the housekeeping, nor as rebellious as Lou, sweet-looking Sandy devotes herself to becoming a perfect woman, with her own naive sense of femininity and sexuality. She engages in an affair with an older, married shoe salesman which ends up an awkward threesome scene with the man's twin brother, and Sandy learning that she is pregnant.
The story builds from one small event to another. Things climax during one long New Year's Eve night, as a dramatic event and the final admission of the secret definitively put an end to the Fields' "pretend normal" family life. The ending is left open, leaving the viewer to guess whether or not the characters will be able to start a new and more honest life and reconstruct family bonds.Callum Keith Rennie as Jim Field
Miranda Richardson as Mary Field
Katharine Isabelle as Lou Field
Kristin Adams as Sandy Field
Monté Gagné as Norma Field
Mark McKinney as Reg and Ron
Carman Fielding as Young Lou
Courtney Goodison as Young Sandy
Melissa Brown as Young Norma
Kett Turton as Tom
Ingrid Nilson as Stella
Kristina Hughes as Sherry
Louise Handford as Mrs. Cartwright
Falling Angels was in development for seven years. Since reading Barbara Gowdy's novel in 1991, producer Robin Cass meant to put it to film but the rights to a film adaptation were already tied up and it took five years to acquire them. Lynne Stopkewich was signed as writer/director in 1997 and produced a first draft but she desisted in 2000 to work on other films after the financial issues had delayed the project, recommending Scott Smith as director. Esta Spalding was hired for scriptwriting. Budget was eventually secured in October 2002.
Hiring two-time Golden Globe winner Miranda Richardson for the role of the mother was crucial to secure the involvement of production companies. More than 1,000 women were auditioned for the key roles of the sisters before settling on Katherine Isabelle, Kristin Adams and Monté Gagné. Callum Keith Rennie signed on to play the father in October 2002, one month before filming started.
While the story takes place in Ontario, Falling Angels was shot on location mostly in Saskatchewan. Principal filming lasted from 19 November 2002 to 17 December 2002, with the final scene shot at the edge of Niagara Falls in February 2003.
Falling Angels was the first feature film to utilize the Canada Saskatchewan Production Studios.
Director of Photography Greg Middleton reported that the short shooting schedule was challenging, as was the one-day shooting in Niagara Falls in winter weather and filming in Moose Jaw with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds practising overhead.
Middleton took inspiration from Barbara Gowdy's family photos to re-create the atmosphere of the late 1960s while "combining realism with a slightly bent reality to emphasize certain psychological aspects of the story."
Falling Angels premiered at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival where it was named one of "Canada's Top Ten Films this year" by the Toronto Film Festival Group. It won the award for Best Ontario Film at Cinéfest Sudbury 2003.
Director Scott Smith won the Nanaimo inFEST Short Film and Awards Festival Silvie Award (2003) and was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Direction by the Directors Guild of Canada (2004) while production designer and art director Rob Gray was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Production Design.
The film received two Genie Awards in 2004: Best Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design (Rob Gray and Christina Kuhnigk) and Best Achievement in Music - Original Song (Ken Whiteley For the song Tell Me), and was nominated four times: Best Achievement in Cinematography (Gregory Middleton), Best Achievement in Overall Sound (Warren St. Onge, Steph Carrier and Lou Solakofski), Best Achievement in Sound Editing (David McCallum, Steven Hammond, Ronayne Higginson, David Rose and Jane Tattersall) and Best Screenplay, Adapted (Esta Spalding).
Callum Keith Rennie was nominated at the 2004 Leo Award for Best Male Lead Performance in a Feature Length Drama and at the 2003 Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a Canadian Film