Dir/Scr: Michael McGowan. Canada. 2008. 94mins.
Canadian filmmaker Michael McGowan’s second feature after Saint Ralph, One Week marks another dispiriting example of a director using sickness and physical deterioration in rationalising dishonest and narcissistic behaviour.
Coming on the heels of Amy Redford’s Sundance entry The Guitar, One Week features a vital and handsome young protagonist who denies the profound physical, psychological and social consequences of having cancer by turning it into a liberation quest. McGowan has talent, but he uses it to largely questionable ends.
Joshua Jackson, well-known for his television work (Dawson’s Creek, the forthcoming Fringe), gives the work some semblance of a marketing hook outside its home market, but this title is likely to be a work for other festivals and DVD and television markets. Outside of North America, the movie is not likely to travel very far.
McGowan structures his work as a road movie. An English teacher and failed novelist, Ben Tyler (Jackson) is startled to learn he has been diagnosed with a particular virulent form of cancer that holds a disarmingly low survival rate. He forsakes treatment, buys a motorcycle and undertakes a journey through the open and expansive western Canadian landscape. Naturally his quest requires abandoning his patient, sympathetic fiancee Samantha (Balaban), only the first of many monstrously self-regarding moments.
The stories, incidents and people (a ruggedly independent female farmer, a beautiful young singer) are not particularly well detailed or dramatically compelling enough to sustain the repetition of the sequences. Structurally the movie’s dominant voice is not Tyler’s but narrator Campbell Scott. Like the ironically deployed narration in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, One Week tries to use the material as a device to pass passing remarks and asides, even occasionally filling in new or emerging details about secondary characters.
In order for One Week to work, it requires not necessarily a sympathetic character but a complicated or unpredictable figure at the centre. Scott’s narration asserts qualities, talents and abilities that are never sufficiently demonstrated. McGowan has put together an excellent soundtrack of alternative Canadian artists. Unfortunately he uses the music too indiscriminately and the near constant use of musical montage to colour or annotate the drama only serves to point out the absence of it.
Mulmur Feed Co.
Nicholas de Pencier
Arthur E. Cooper