Friday, March 20, 2009

Rose-coloured Reviews *One Week*

One Week is a movie about a 29-year-old English teacher who finds out he has cancer with 1-in-10 odds of survival. He buys a motorcycle and tells his fiancee he needs to "have an adventure.". Oh, yeah, he also buys a coffee from Tim Hortons and rolls up the rim to win, only instead of a doughnut or a BBQ, he gets "Go west, young man."

*One Week* is almost the nice simple daydream/nightmare most people have--buggering off all your responsibilities and doing what you've always dreamed of doing, with no guilt and no regrets because it's probably the last thing you'll ever do. There's a couple wry and magical moments like the Tim Hortons cup--I hate reviews that tell you all the best bits, so I won't, but they are lovely. That sort of thing, plus the character's sheer joy in what he's doing, goes a long ways towards tempering the capital-M mortality theme.

And so does the star's performance. Most of the time, when you've got a script that calls for a single actor to be in nearly every frame, often in close-up and often in pain, you go for a heavy hitter. As actors go, Joshua Jackson is pretty lightweight--whenever I mentioned that I would see/had seen this film, someone squawks, "Oh, Pacey. Whatevs, I never watched Dawson's Creek, but I credit Jackson for using every ounce of his talent in this movie, and his direct r Michael Mcgowan for never pushing him to strain for more. The fact is, life calls on the lightweights as often as the bruisers to deal with bad news, and the character he plays *is* a lightweight, maybe one hoping to be more. I know tonnes of guys like Ben--with sweet girlfriends, mediocre jobs, go-along attitudes and a backpack whenever they have to carry something. Those guys deserve a movie, too, and Jackson's Ben is a pretty perfect portrayal of ordinary.

And part of Ben's ordinariness is his self-dramatization. The whole solo trip west on a black motorcycle is fanciful, and so is his luggagelessness, sleeping in his motorcycle jacket and eating silently alone without anything to read. So is his eschewing of the big town in favour of rural outposts and tourist attractions, hiking without a map, and one perfectly charming attempt to dance for joy when he doesn't feel it. Ben's a little pretentious; Jackson and this movie aren't.

Much. The one thing I'll fault *One Week* for is something 95% of viewers won't even note: I feel a touch of professional pique that Ben's supposed to be a writer, but he a) never writes anything, and b) never reads anything. The insertion of this biographical data is just supposed to be a cue for us to think he's deep, you see, and I really don't like the idea that writing is some sort of automatic admission to Maslow's penthouse (would that it were). But whatever, minor detail.

Better, but still strange, is the fact that this movie is mad-crammed with Canadiana--there is no scene, no skyline or pan or fade that doesn't scrawl I AM CANADIAN all over the celluloid (note: since it was a whole movie of familiar sites, I left off jabbing my companion at every one, though there may have been a few twitches from me at the Dundas streetcar, Kalendar and Trinity College at UofT, and Big Nickel in Sudbury [sidebar: I have a big crush on the Big Nickel]). I don't know who decided to make this movie one big postcard, but it was pretty fun to see Jackson posing for pictures with every roadside attraction west of TO. There were also plenty of landscape shots with the motorcycle tiny in the foreground. I dug that ok, though in truth it got a little dull. The women sitting both in front of and behind us were a lot more bored than I was, judging my the level of conversation. Obviously, modern audiences aren't real clear on what to do when no one is talking on-screen...except talk themselves.

I haven't even mentioned the most plotty element in the film (shows what kind of reviewer I am), which is Ben's relationship with his finacee, Samantha. Throughout the trip, Ben puzzles about whether his illness changes anything about that relationship, and for good or ill. As the left-behind Sam, the actress Lianne Balaban is stuck doing most of her dramatic work with a cellphone, and nearly everytime we see her she is engaged in some semi-inane wedding preparation. And yet the character is sweet, sympathic and smart, pretty featherlight herself but definitely someone you'd look forward to seeing on-screen.

And the ending. As you may know, I'm on a kick for good endings. For a film that was so ripe for schmaltz and sentiment the end, *One Week* really blew me away with a closing that was subtle, mature, and neither simplistic nor even simple. I was genuinely surprised by it, and that's rare in "life-redeeming" sort of movie. Yes, yes, there was the sweetheart coda, but by that point, I was ready to be moved by it.

And I was.

And the eyes were / a colour I can't remember

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