Thursday, December 21, 2017

Drawing Home: The Whytes of Canada

You could say Peter and Catharine Robb Whyte were the Wyeths of Banff. They were definitely the first family of Canadian landscape painting. She originally hailed from Concord, MA, but she took to Banff and the husband who brought her there, like her WASPy, society family could hardly believe. Their outdoorsy love story is the focus of Markus Rupprecht’s Drawing Home (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Catharine Robb was always closer to her father than her mother, but Edith Morse Robb quite encouraged her relationship with John D. Rockefeller III. Yet, it was fellow art student Peter Whyte who won her heart. He was rather at a disadvantage living in the Canadian Rockies, but when she finally visited Banff, she fell for him and the rugged countryside. Before too long, the It Happened One Night-style Jericho Wall curtain separating the couple comes crashing down.

Lady Edith just doesn’t get it, but they have the support of Whyte’s parents and his mentor, naturalized German landscape painter, Carl Rungius. They are happy together, until tragedy strikes the ski lodge operated by the Whyte Brothers in 1933. Frankly, their mathematician pal Kit Paley acted like a jerk, but Whyte still takes his death hard.

Frankly, the screenplay co-written by Rupprecht and Donna Logan short-changes Peter Whyte in favor of his wife. They completely ignore his WWII service, taking him on a steep decline from the Paley accident to his eventual death, interrupted only by the brief redemption made possible by CRW.

Nevertheless, Rupprecht manages to integrate the work of both painters reasonably well and he fully capitalizes on the picturesque Banff landscape. Drawing also features a warm supporting turn from Rutger Hauer, letting him show a side we rarely get to see, with his charismatic portrayal of Rungius. Julie Lynn Mortensen and Juan Riedinger are relatively pleasant and credibly down-to-earth as the Whytes, but neither really puts a distinctive stamp on the film. Kate Mulgrew is also largely stuck playing a stereotypical snobby mother-in-law, but Kristin Griffith brings some heart and energy to the proceedings as Jean Caird, the Robb family nanny-housekeeper-busybody.

Cinematographer Patrick McLaughlin, composer Ben Holiday, and the design team all contribute to the film’s gauzily nostalgic vibe. The Whytes painted landscapes, but at times, the late 1920s and early 1930s scenes suggest the look of fellow Massachusetts resident Norman Rockwell’s work. It is generally a nice film—sometimes too nice. Recommended for sentimental patrons of nature art and conservation, Drawing Home opens tomorrow (12/22) in New York, at the Cinema Village.