Saturday, February 16, 2008

Surviving My Mother. Out Tuesday the 19th. (*******7/10)

I did not need to read the back of the DVD for Surviving My Mother to figure out it was shot in Montreal and that it was a Canadian film. You see, it stars Colin Mochrie. While Mochrie is no Colm Feore or Roy Dupuis, his involvement in a movie instantly identifies it as Canadian. Also, during the movie, he mentions attending St. Piux X high school. That seems pretty Canadian to me. However, this is the amazing thing: Had I not been aware of Mochrie and St. Pius X, I would not have known! So many movies and TV shows that are made in Canada just smack of "Canadian". Even the big-budget experiments, the shows that make an attempt to be just like American shows - think Street Legal, or Nikita. (Which of course stars Roy Dupuis.) They had high ambitions, and Cynthia Dale and Peta Wilson were certainly international-hot, rather than just Canadian-hot, but there was something about those shows, something I could never put my finger on, that screamed "Canadian" at me when I watched. It was unavoidable, as though Canuck was something stamped into the film that couldn't be shaken no matter how hard the producers tried. Call it the Curse Of Danger Bay.

By the way - when I was a kid, I thought the most beautiful woman on earth had to be Nancy Sakovich, star of such Canadian fare as Destiny Ridge and Psi-Factor. To this day, I maintain that she was the only reason to watch either of those shows. She later played Silken Laumann in a made-for-TV biopic, and the same year starred in another made-for-TV biopic, The Jesse Ventura Story. As you can see from this picture, she is still very attractive. But usually, in Canadian TV shows and movies, the "hot girl" was what screamed "second class Canadian!" at the top of her lungs. Because usually the "hot girl" was the chick who played Amanda on Ready Or Not, or the older daughter from Danger Bay, or someone like that. All attractive girls, to be sure, but it's a different kind of attractive. Were the film or show American, the girls would be played by Jessica Simpson or Mischa Barton or some such thing. There was just an added bit of glamour. Now, it was likely in the way they were shot, more so than in the actual selection of the actresses, but that doesn't change the fact that there was always a distinct difference.

OK. Now that I had an excuse to put a picture of Nancy Sakovich into a review of a totally non-Nancy-Sakovich related movie, here are some words about Surviving My Mother. It does not smack of Canadian. That, I truly believe, is one of the highest compliments one can pay a Canadian movie. You film it here, you use our stars, you use our cinematographers, and yet an outsider would not know it was Canadian. That's huge. Now, before all you rah-rah patriotic Canadians get righteously indignant with me, I would like to say this: A movie or TV show that smacks of Canadian is bad. Nikita, Danger Bay, Bumper Stumpers, Bon Cop Bad Cop. But something that feels Canadian is good - Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Away From Her, or Surviving My Mother. This movie is good. And it feels Canadian. Ellen David plays Clara, a woman whose mother has been sick for a long time, living with the family, and has been an enormous burden on everyone. She is a horribly bitter old woman, played comically by Veronique Le Flaguais. Colin Mochrie is Clara's husband, and Caroline Dhavernas is their daughter Bianca.

When Clara's mother finally dies, Clara feels like she needs to recapture some of her life that she wasted doting on the frail old lady. She does that by attempting to re-connect with her daughter, and really getting to know her. This leads to some very good scenes, most notably a scene in a movie theatre that is almost self-referential, where the two of them are watching some stupid Hollywood comedy and the daughter starts sobbing. The big drama in the movie centres around the daughter. Does the mom really want to know her daughter that well? Those of us watching would think not. The daughter, you see, is a very dirty tramp. She sleeps with dozens of married men, with anonymous partners she meets online, and has been whoring herself out for a very long time. Her latest partner turns out to be someone fairly close to the family, a local priest who, like Bianca, is living very much of a double life. I would have liked to see a lot more of the relationship between the priest and his own mother, it seems almost more interesting than the relationship between Clara and Bianca.

The movie is smart, well-written and well acted. Caroline Dhavernas is smoking hot in a very non-Canadian way. Again this isn't her physical appearance so much as the way she is shot in the movie. She is creepily believable as the seductress, a Linda Fiorentino type almost, who leads men to their doom, and she has a very disturbing scene later on with the young priest. Normally, I watch movies like this one and think "I don't care HOW hot she is. I would have been out of there weeks ago. No one needs that much drama." But in this case, I sort of get it. Sort of. Toward the end, the movie gets very melodramatic, with a scene that comes off as unnecessarily harsh, which unleashes a scene that seems like a massive over-reaction, but it still works. In the end, Clara must come to terms with her relationship with her daughter at about the same time she is coming to terms with her own mother. A fine film that feels Canadian, but not obnoxiously so.

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