Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One Week [movie review]

* Released theatrically in March 2009; now on DVD
Although I watched One Week just a couple of days into the new year, I'll still count it as easily my most pleasant movie surprise of 2009. My expectations for most Canadian films are fairly low, based on their dodgy track recorda, and this one was no different.
It stars Vancouver's Joshua Jackson, best known for his TV work on Dawson's Creek and Fringe. Jackson has never been what you'd call a dynamic actor and most of his roles tend to portray him as the likeable nice guy, which I'm sure is an extension of his real-life personality. But possessing such a characteristic can flirt dangerously close with also being associated to the word "dull", which Jackson has been accused of (that's not my opinion, though...I've always been fairly ambivalent about him as an actor). In One Week, his performance is typically low-key, which suits his character of Ben Tyler, and it's far from dull. The entire movie actually feels low-key, in typically Canadian film-like fashion, and that's despite the presence of Canada's beautiful, majestic scenery acting essentially as a supporting player. On the DVD commentary, director/screenwriter/producer Michael McGowan refers to the film as "a love letter to Canada".
Ben is diagnosed with a rare and advanced form of aggressive cancer that carries an ominously low survivor rate. As a man left unfulfilled by his job as an elementary school teacher and a failed writing career, not to mention subtle allusions to the fact his relationship with fiancee Samantha (played by an excellent Liane Balaban) isn't rock solid, he decides that living out possibly the last days of his life as a cancer patient isn't an attractive option. Instead of seeking treatment right away, as his doctor and Samantha are urging, he instead decides to buy a motorcycle. His impulse to get away and hit the road is cemented when a sign from the gods is delivered via a message on his Tim Hortons coffee cup, one of many charming examples of Canadiana in the movie. The intended two day trip turns into something bigger, as Ben crosses the country and meets an assortment of colourful characters who directly and indirectly provide assistance in putting his life in perspective.
McGowan calls One Week "a very music-heavy film", with a steady stream of Canadian artists populating the soundtrack to great effect. Musicians also show up on screen - Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip has a surprisingly memorable cameo and talented singer-songwriter Emm Gryner plays a small, but key role. Nova Scotian musician Joel Plaskett appears during another important scene, playing a street busker.
McGowan does a fantastic job of capturing Canada's natural beauty, probably the best use of it in a film that I've seen. As I mentioned, One Week is also chock full of examples and references to life in Canada. An abundant number of shots of Canadian flags, the northern lights, Canadian Tire, the Stanley Cup (including an Anaheim Mighty Ducks tie-in, a sly reference to one of Jackson's first movies) - all of them show up, along with many Canadian tourist landmarks. It's the most Canadian Canuck film I've ever seen, even instilling a renewed sense of pride about the country I reside in.
Special mention also needs to go to actor Campbell Scott, who provides one of the most effective uses of narration that I've experienced in recent memory (I know, I know...this movie and I should just go get a room already, right?). Scott imparts humorous, helpful commentary about Ben and the people he meets, without falling into the frequent movie voiceover annoyance of feeling intrusive. And McGowan throws a great little surprise in at the end of the movie involving him.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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