Judge Clark Douglas is a weak one.
What would you do?
I'm still not sure Michael McGowan's One Week is a good film, but I have no doubt that it really, really wants to be. Quirky, experimental, ironic, detached, earnest, witty, sentimental, and low-key, the film desperately wants to be loved but doesn't want to risk alienating hip indie-film audiences turned off by such blatant pleas for affection.
Our protagonist is a young man named Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson, Fringe), who has just learned that he has stage four cancer. His chances of survival are minimal. If his treatment is unable to rid him of the cancer (and odds are it won't), his lifespan is expected to be anywhere between a few days and two years. Basically, the end could come at any moment. Rather than immediately jumping into treatment, Ben decides he needs to take a soul-searching road trip. Buying a motorcycle and traveling west across Canada, Ben encounters a variety of colorful individuals and learns a few lessons along the way.
The concept of One Week has a certain familiarity to it, and McGowan does everything in his power to make this relatively predictable tale feel fresh and new. And yet, much of what he does to accomplish this feels conventionally "offbeat" in its own indie flick way: Ben has an obsession with seeing the largest versions of all sorts of things (the largest collage, the largest fake dinosaur, the largest paper clip, etc.), there are breezy acoustic guitar tunes performed by singers cooing verbal shrugs, a self-aware scene in which Ben attempts to create his own "inspirational movie moment," and cutesy flashback sequences accompanied by narration (courtesy of Campbell Scott) that flit between grave profundity and deadpan wit.
The near-schizophrenic nature of the film's emotional state makes this deceptively understated little movie sort of exhausting, and not necessarily in a good way. Witnessing sudden fits of passionate emotion burst through the movie's cool indie facade, I was reminded of Dr. Strangelove's uncontrollable arm. The film's body may be in the world of independent film, but its heart seems a transplant from the Hallmark Channel.
From scene to scene, I found most of One Week engaging and sometimes entertaining, but the thing starts to fall apart in retrospect. There's a cutesy revelation about the narration during the film's conclusion that may inspire smiles in viewers, but the actual ending of the story is both inevitable and boring. After all of Ben's soul-searching and self-discovery, the film needs to tell us something other than that the soul-searching and self-discovery probably did him some good. Ben's relationship with his girlfriend (Caroline Cave, Stargate Atlantis) seems comprised of one scene after another intent on defying relationship-movie clichés, but they are followed by terribly clichéd scenes of Ben's attempt to find personal salvation.
Joshua Jackson is actually rather good in the lead role, though Ben is more than a little difficult to warm up to. As the actor grows and sheds his Dawson's Creek roots, he's becoming an increasingly interesting screen presence. Most of the other performers come and go too quickly to make a big impression, but Cave brings a lot to an underwritten character. Campbell Scott's omnipresent narration gives us the impression that the film is a good deal more assured of itself than it is. Perhaps the biggest star is Canada, as the lovely scenery and culture-specific bits n' pieces (Tim Hortons coffee cups, a cameo by Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip and a near-religious encounter with the Stanley Cup) are consistently enjoyable elements.
The standard-def transfer is disappointing given the film's attractive visuals, offering somewhat poor detail and an image which looks flat overall. I don't know why so many of these IFC-distributed films have looked underwhelming on DVD, but this disc is a bit below modern standard. Audio is fine, with clear dialogue and a modest, subtle sound mix. The only supplement is a theatrical trailer.
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