by Jim Slotek
(February 2, 2018 – Toronto, ON) If, as the late author Pierre Berton supposedly said, “a Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe,” it isn’t surprising that our movie romances would be similarly unorthodox.
With Valentine’s Day looming, here’s a roundup of 10 of our favourite homegrown love stories, not one of which is your average Hollywood rom-com.
GOON: The based-on-a-true-story comedy by Michael Dowse – about a bar bouncer who slaps on skates and becomes a hockey enforcer – is merely the second greatest hockey film ever made after Slap Shot. And that’s in no small part thanks to the oddball romance between the earnestly-dumb title character (Seann William Scott) and his puck bunny girlfriend (Allison Pill). Favourite line: “You make me want to stop sleeping with a bunch of guys.”
SNOW CAKE: Maybe part of my affection for this movie is I like to imagine how Alan Rickman coped with spending an extended period in Wawa, Ontario. Rickman plays a damaged Englishman driving across Canada in a rented car, whose trip is derailed by a fatal accident. While in Wawa, his character, Alex, befriends a bereaved, autistic mother (Sigourney Weaver) and falls into something like love with a local woman named Maggie (The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss). No emotional quick-fixes, no easy answers, kind of like love itself.
AWAY FROM HER: Julie Christie got an Oscar nomination and Sarah Polley got director cred for this adaptation of an Alice Munro story about a long-lasting couple (Christie and Gordon Pinsent) whose difficult past is barely overcome when she develops Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband erased from her mind, another man (Michael Murphy) enters her life at the nursing home. Yet love survives forgetting. The all-time great Canadian tear-jerker.
SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD: A graphic-novel-born story of a teen (Michael Cera) who must defeat several of his new girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)’s ex-boyfriends in gamer-stylized battle to prove his love. Edgar Wright’s take on the story is over-the-top batsh–, and the movie doubles as one of the most sincere love letters to Toronto ever directed by a transplanted Englishman.
YOUNG PEOPLE FUCKING: Not since Schitt’s Creek has a piece of Canadian entertainment so misdirected an audience with its title. Fairly tasteful in its sexual depictions, this tale of multiple rom-com situations (a couple who try to be friends-with-benefits, a young wife who tries to take kinky charge of her marriage bed, etc.) mostly took place outside the bedroom door. Its sexual depictions were remarkably tasteful, and it had a mushy heart, and a moral message that sex and love are actually pretty inseparable.
THE F-WORD: Hey, as long as we’re dropping F-bombs… Actually, this cold-eyed romance by Canada’s wittiest filmmaker Michael Dowse (of FUBAR and the aforementioned Goon) was released in the U.S. with the forgettable title What If. Either way, it stars Daniel Radcliffe as a bachelor who’s given up trying – until he meets Zoe Kazan, who unfortunately has a live-in boyfriend. The “F-word,” by the way, is “friend,” which is where this situation starts. Yet another film that wears its Toronto location on its sleeve.
LAST NIGHT: Don McKellar wrote and directed this eve-of-apocalypse story in which people spend their last hours in various ways. McKellar’s character simply wants to be alone, but a desperate woman named Sandra (Sandra Oh) enlists him to find her missing husband. Somewhere along the way, they lose sight of their mission and develop eyes for each other. McKellar’s breakthrough film. Also includes a rare acting turn by David Cronenberg. And speaking of him…
M BUTTERFLY: This is as close to a romance as you’re going to get from Cronenberg – an adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s Tony-winning play, based on the real-life story of a French diplomat (Jeremy Irons) who falls in love with a Chinese opera singer (John Lone) who’s actually a man. The ambiguity of who knew what about whom is nicely handled, and the lesson that love is an illusion we sell to ourselves is resonant.
BARNEY’S VERSION: If your idea of a romance is a man and a woman who belong together ending up together, pass on this adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel. But Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe for his performance here as Barney Panofsky, who seemingly marries every woman he (however briefly) falls in love with, professing his passion for one (Rosamund Pike) on the day of his wedding to another. Pike’s character Miriam is actually the glue that holds his car-crash of a love life together in this tale that spans decades.
DOG PARK: Kids In The Hall’s Bruce McCulloch supposedly based this cross-connected romantic comedy on the goings-on at an actual dog park in Toronto’s Riverdale district. The focus is Andy (Luke Wilson) who belongs with Lorna (Natasha Henstridge), but it’s not as simple as that (nor is the relationship between McCulloch’s character Jeff and Janeane Garofalo’s Jeri). The message: dog parks are soap operas with poop bags.
Jim Slotek is a longtime Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter who has interviewed thousands of celebrities. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special. His writing also appears in Cineplex, Movie Entertainment magazines and in the blog Original-Cin.