New Video // 2011 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // October 4th, 2011
Life ain't cheap.
Stuffed with odd coincidences that eventually cripple the majority of its initial appeal, Deborah Chow's The High Cost of Living spends too much time sacrificing both story and emotion for the sake of the film's obnoxious love affair with the implausible. That said, I certainly wouldn't put this Canadian indie feature into the pile of worst films of the year. Chow clearly shows promise as an emerging filmmaker with an interest in telling stories about the complexities of life and relationships, and even though her directorial debut falls a little flat in the plot department, it manages to partly redeem itself with solid production values and a pair of compelling performances.
Back from an extended absence from the big screen, Zach Braff (Garden State) slips into the role of Henry, a scruffy American who makes a living dealing prescription drugs in Montreal. One night, after a heavy round of partying, Henry makes a wrong turn and accidentally runs over a pregnant woman named Nathalie (Isabelle Blais, The Barbarian Invasions). In classic hit-and-run fashion, he quickly takes off. Nathalie loses her baby and can barely cope, while Henry, soon plagued by guilt, decides to seek her out. One strange thing leads to another, and before you know it, Henry and Nathalie are warming up to each other.
If this all sounds too good to be true, it gets better. Although Nathalie has no idea who he is, she quickly starts to appreciate his unexpected support. She can't really talk to her husband because he's too busy with work, so a total stranger comes in quite handy. Of course, as far as Henry is concerned, comforting Nathalie helps him straighten out his guilty conscience. He definitely feels he owes her the truth, but seeing her confiding in him just makes it impossible for him to come clean...
If any of this feels a little unconvincing, it certainly wasn't meant to be. The High Cost of Living takes itself very seriously, and all we can do to enjoy this experience is completely suspend our disbelief. Now, what really works in Chow's film is the beginning. The opening minutes properly introduce the characters and set up the principal conflict, and everything leading up to the first meeting between Henry and Nathalie is both promising and engaging. Alas, the weird coincidences soon start to pile up, and things start to get weirder and a lot less credible.
Chow introduces a bunch of side characters to generate little subplots, but most of them add very little to the central relationship between the two leads. The first two acts of The High Cost of Living are certainly watchable, but it all breaks down as the movie dives into the final chapter, which serves as a disappointing finish to the conflict the film spends so much time building. As much as it pains me to say it, this tale of guilt and grief takes one hell of a wrong turn during the last 30 minutes. Things go pretty well as long as Nathalie and Henry are busy developing their peculiar relationship, but when the consequences of their actions, decisions and feelings finally unravel, it all goes downhill in a matter of minutes.
Despite the lack of plausibility surrounding the special bond between the two lead characters, The High Cost of Living boasts a superb cast. In the role of Henry, Zach Braff reminds us why we grew to love him as an actor, and although his character has its major weaknesses, he plays the guy with a sense of sincerity and calmness that's quite hard to ignore. The real star of the film, however, is Isabelle Blais, whose performance as Nathalie goes down as one of my favorites of this year. Not only does she shine in romantic scenes, but she also completely stands out in her portrayal of a grieving woman struggling to cope with the death of her unborn child. It's save to say this film is saved by the acting.
On a more technical level, I must admit Chow's got a good eye. Her depiction of the environment surrounding her characters helps establish the gloomy mood in The High Cost of Living, a low-budget movie that actually looks pretty expensive. Speaking of looks, the DVD offers a clean transfer boasting both a sharp picture quality and excellent soundtrack. Special features are scarce, and the only extra you'll find on the disc is an interview with Zach Braff.
The High Cost of Living contains some distinct features that make it an indie worthy of at least one viewing. Yes, the strong presence of implausible actions and coincidences in the script (such as the first meeting between Henry and Nathalie, to mention just one) have a very negative impact on the movie from a global perspective, but thanks to the fabulous cast and Chow's clean-cut direction, the film also carries a compelling atmosphere that will keep you engaged from start to finish.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, French)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated