Emma Neuman (Lexi Giovagnoli) is a studious, straight-A student harbouring a hopeless crush on Chris Duvall (Carlo Marks), the most popular guy in school. She finds herself facing a dilemma when Chris asks her to help him cheat on the history final in order to save his football scholarship. Around the same time, Emma comes to the aid of a strange homeless woman (Tansy Alexander) who turns out to be something akin to her fairy godmother. She bestows Emma with a magical necklace that gives her three chances to relive the events of the following day and see the consequences of her decisions.
On paper 3 Times a Charm must comes across like a teen variation on Groundhog Day (1993), a trick Richard Curtis pulled off only recently with About Time (2013). However, the tradition of such second chance wish-fulfilment fables dates back a lot further than the much-beloved Bill Murray comedy classic. An independent Canadian outing from ambitious indie auteur Letia Clouston, director of the popular web series Broken Toy and interesting behind-the-scenes in Hollywood thriller In the Dark (2006), this modest but engaging teen fantasy punches above its weight. While the low-budget shows through the sitcom level production values, Clouston and co-writer Michael Matteo have crafted a screenplay that is snappy and smart. Its central message draws explicitly upon an oft-paraphrased quote from philosopher-poet George Santayana, namely: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Screenplay analysts often put forward the notion that while male-driven stories chart the protagonists journey towards gaining empathy, female-driven stories are about women learning to assert themselves. Although somewhat of a simplification on general terms, in this instance that is more or less what happens initially. Emma’s attempt to pass her test results off as the work of Chris ends in disaster, whereupon she uses the magic necklace to grab a second chance. This time she puts her own needs first, only to end up alienating all her friends and wrecking her life all over again, precipitating the crucial third do-over. The plot stumbles somewhat given Emma’s so-called friends come out looking like a bunch of snarky, lazy, two-faced, self-centred jerks, only the heroine does not seem to notice. She does learn more about Chris and his personal problems as a result of picking up some seriously bad life lessons from his amoral, womanising father.
Gradually, through much trial and error, Emma does gain self-respect but also learns how to balance that with a crucial ability to nurture and encourage others. In keeping with the quote from Santayana, she learns how to learn from peripheral events, picking up clues that help solve daily problems. While less than subtle and undeniably cheesy in parts, the central moral comes across as rather charming including Emma’s use of a basketball game to teach Chris all about the American War of Independence. On the other hand, the antics of Emma’s prank-loving little brother (Vincent Giovagnoli) wear very thin. Lead actress Lexi Giovagnoli is an engaging presence and co-star Carlo Marks serves his role well, despite looking suspiciously mature for a high school student, but several supporting players come across as either stilted or shrill. Still, it is a film with its heart in the right place and the closing twist is really rather sweet.