This very dark melodrama is the feature film writing/directing debut of French Canadian actor Yan England and is a chilling tale of the possible consequences of unchecked schoolyard homophobia.
Sixteen-year-old Tim (Antoine Olivier Pilon) used to be a star athlete on his school track team, but after his mother died he lost all interest in running. Now he spends most of his downtime hanging out with his best friend Francis (Robert Naylor) and as they tend to keep themselves to themselves, they are ruthlessly taunted by their classmates for being a couple of ‘faggots’.
Tim has been battling with his sexuality for years but is so closeted he will not even share his feelings with Francis, who after a particularly bad incident of being bullied, takes his own life immediately after confessing his love for Tim.
Now the introverted ex-athlete gets even more withdrawn until he decides that that only way to get some sort of revenge on his arrogant chief tormentor Jeff (Lou-Pascal Tremblay) is to take up running again and stop him winning a coveted place in the National Championships that Jeff is determined should be his.
When the manipulative Jeff manages to get some sexually compromising video on Tim he uses it to blackmail him to drop out of the team once and for all. Which he does for a while, but in the end, he is persuaded by his father and coach, who are ignorant of the reasons why he stopped, to re-join the team and try out for the Championship.
In the midst of all this Jen (Sophie Nélisse) who has witnessed all the bullying and taunting, offers to be Tim’s token girlfriend. She is fully aware of Tim’s closeted sexuality but hopes her presence will at least finally deflect the homophobia of Jeff and his cronies.
I: 54, which incidentally refers to the fast time each of the boys are hoping to achieve in their 800 meters race, does a great job of highlighting some of these important issues that LGBT teenagers face, but its way of dealing with them is a tad too overdramatic to make the story seem completely authentic.
One the redeeming factors, however, is the compelling central performance by Pilon as Tim. He first showed his mettle when starring in Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, and he fulfills that promise now with such a strong presence as the tormented teen who in the end was just pushed too far.
Anyone who had to deal with intolerance, homophobia, and bullying when attempting to reconcile with their own sexuality will be able to relate to Tim and James’s struggles, we can only hope they were resolved with less severe consequences.