Published Apr 21, 2011Beyond death, taxes and the human need to find arbitrary superiority wherever possible, one of life's certainties is that Canadian films will feature despondent characters filled with secrets and self-loathing, often avoidant of conflict and repressed to the point of the passive-aggressive quotidian as a mode of survival. And while the cultural connotations may be less than flattering, this introverted, realist sensibility can make for compelling, deeply tragic character drama if handled with care.
Such is the case with Deborah Chow's feature film debut, The High Cost of Living, which examines the nascent relationship between a grieving, would-be mother forced to carry a stillborn baby, after an accident leaves her too weak to deliver, and the drug dealer that ran her down. The emotional clincher is that said mother, Nathalie (Isabelle Blais), has no idea that Henry (Zach Braff) – the compassionate, caring new person in her life – is the very man that left her and her unborn baby for dead after a hit-and-run.
Now, pulling off a plot like this requires a delicate balancing of character traits and appeals in order to keep an audience engaged and maintain plausibility. Generating pathos for Nathalie is easy, given her horrifying predicament and logical identity crisis, unable to confront the image of her swollen, bruised stomach or distant husband, Michel (Patrick Labbé). Henry, on the other hand, is a far trickier sell. He has to be approachable and likable enough that we believe Nathalie would turn to him for comfort, yet he also has to have a loathsome undercurrent, given his ultimate use of an already ruined woman to sate his guilt.
Oddly enough, Zach Braff is an ideal choice for a character of this nature, being dorky and relatable, but also seeming somewhat self-involved and sneaky. It's a necessary balance that ultimately propels this surprisingly moving character piece, adding depth to what is essentially a story about the selfish nature of human connection. (Film Option)