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`Hanging Garden’ gets hung up on cliches

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Ironically enough, while gay cinema claims to be "different" from other movies, it often suffers from some of the same cliched storytelling techniques.

While "The Hanging Garden" benefits from some imaginative plotting (the tale blends spooky fantasy with drama and some off-kilter humor), it quickly bogs down with the overly familiar theme of the dysfunctional family.And writer-producer-director Thom Fitzgerald is a little too ambitious. In fact, he has created so many plot threads that he can't possibly pull them together in less than two hours.

The film does feature some good performances, though, particularly from Canadian television star Chris Leavins, who plays "Sweet" William, a formerly obese 20-something who returns home to Nova Scotia for the wedding of his sister Rosemary (Kerry Fox).

Once there, he is plagued by visions of traumatic events from his youth, including abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father, Mac (Peter MacNeill); the discovery of his homosexuality; and his subsequent suicide attempt - the act that gives the film its title.

The haunting visions force William to confront his past and accept mistakes he has made. Meanwhile, his mother (Seana McKenna) is so fed up with Mac's drunken antics that she abandons him, as well as their youngest daughter, tomboy Violet (Christine Dunsworth).

There are some interesting ideas here. But they're so underdeveloped and superficial that it's hard to relate to either the characters or the dramatic situations. And the melding of styles doesn't always work. Some scenes are treated with inappropriate whimsy, while others that are played for drama seem laugh-able.

But there's no denying the strength of Leavins' performances, as well as MacNeill, Fox and McKenna. If only Fitzgerald's scripting and plotting were as good.

"The Hanging Garden" is rated R for profanity, simulated sex (some of it overheard), vulgar slang, violent slapping, drug use and male nudity.