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One Week (2008)

by on 2011/07/19


“I’m just searching for memories.”

* * * * *

In a dollar store, in the town of Bracebridge, I pulled One Week from a bargain bin. Judging by the title, I immediately remembered the Barenaked Ladies song, and assumed it must be similarly goofy. Not that goofy can’t be fun, and I love the Ladies a lot, but I really wasn’t in the mood just then.

Then Gru glanced over, saw what I held, and told me she thought I’d like it. She’d seen it advertised somewhere. I read the back, figured “Why not?” and paid whatever it cost.

A year along, the store is gone, though not entirely forgotten, presumably like One Week’s own protagonist. Joshua Jackson (Fringe) won a Best Actor Genie for his portrayal of Ben Tyler, who learns he will likely die very soon of cancer. A mild-mannered but frustrated singer, writer, and English teacher, he’s engaged to Samantha (Liane Balaban), a woman he’s unsure he really loves.

Uncharacteristically, he buys a motorcycle, and goes west out from Toronto. Over the course of several days, he travels through a series of towns, seeking out local landmarks, often oversized “world’s biggest” novelties: bird, fish, hydrant, nickel, pipe, teepee, and so on.

Fortunately there’s more than kitschy regional pride to endear this film to an audience. Ben’s terminal condition doesn’t get milked for easy pity. The story concerns itself with matters beyond a week on the road. It shares a lot of similarities with the tone of other works I respect, especially Hawks and Everybody’s Fine.

As in both of those movies, the meetings en route are important. Ben discovers a transient cancer survivor (The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie) at a motel on the way. He retrieves the pet of a rancher (Jane Spidell) who repairs his motorbike. He encounters a folk-singing hiker (Emm Gryner) when he’s lost in the woods of Banff. These few, and others, offer our hero a chance to redeem and be redeemed, or at least to help in his ongoing quest for memories.

His journey even branches off into miraculous cause and effect. While his own life may be forfeit soon, his actions beget salvation in the various lives he touches. Skipping an appointment saves a commuting nurse. His visit with the rancher leads her to meet the love of her life. Photographing a couple of tourists keeps their marriage intact. These diversions are a little like Run Lola Run.

Insofar as nationalism is concerned, if the setting itself and the cameo roles were not Canuck enough, then the many CanCon touches render it so. References to Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons exist in the same reality as Ben’s exploration of identity, and learning to appreciate his home and native land. Everything unwinds against a wholly homegrown soundtrack, including Joel Plaskett, Sam Roberts, Stars, and others.

The musical sequences are less central than transitory, however, in an experience rich with such devices. While the overall narrative is linear, it is nonetheless unconventional, with sudden intercut sidesteps along the way. We see occasional glimpses of Samantha, flash back into Ben’s past, and look ahead to imagine his possible future. He hallucinates, may already be dead, or sees with a new clarity.

The production and its lead are occasionally self-referential, playing on theatrical conventions. A turning point is celebrated with a faux celebration scene. The persistent — yet never grating — narrative voice emerges as an actor (Campbell Scott) in a studio. The net effect is an intertextual travelogue, hallucinatory and surreal, but less gimmicky than decorative, an uncomplicated plot at its core.

Ultimately, One Week demonstrates why low-budget independents remain vital. Compelling characters, interesting tales, and original approaches to their telling can compete with big budget blockbusters any time.

Case in point — and at the risk of seeming treasonous — I don’t love golf, hockey, motorcycles (or even driving in general), the outdoors, swimming, or Tim Hortons’ coffee . . . but I do love Bracebridge, bargain bins, and I really love One Week.

* * * * *

Rated PG

94 minutes

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