Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A New Yorker in Canada: The High Cost of Living

Evidently, French Canadians have quite a demand for methadone and other prescription drugs. Business is so good New Yorker Henry (not Henri) Welles sets up shop in Montreal, overstaying his term of legal residency. As a result, he is not inclined to stop and do the right thing when he accidentally hits a pregnant woman one dark boozy night. Still, he has that conscience nagging at him in Deborah Chow’s The High Cost of Living (trailer here), which opens in New York this Friday as part of the upcoming showcase of Tribeca distributed films.

After a hard night’s work meeting customers in bars and clubs, Welles is totally loaded. He is also carrying barrel full of pills. He could have at least offered some to Nathalie after running her over. Very pregnant, the French Canadian had woken up alarmed by early contractions. With her workaholic husband not answering his phone, she had been trying to hail a cab when Welles struck her going the wrong way on her street.

Though the baby was killed, the hospital does not induce delivery, claiming concern for her overall health. Naturally, still carrying her deceased daughter causes much psychological trauma for Nathalie, essentially spelling the end of her marriage. Fortunately, she makes a new friend, who is Johnny-on-the-spot when she needs a bit of support at the local pub: the apparently generous and nonjudgmental Welles. Thus begins their chaste courtship, unfolding as the police pursue the hit-and-run driver.

Given the rather awkward truth, the audience spends the entire film anticipating the big confessional scene. When it finally arrives, writer-director Chow (pictured below) displays a deft touch, largely avoiding the histrionics viewers have been dreading. In fact, it is impressively honest and matter-of-fact scene. Unfortunately, the long set-up of their quirky but sensitive getting-to-know-you period quickly becomes tiresome and repetitive.

Scrubs’ Zach Braff is just about passable as the sad-eyed pill-pusher, but not exactly a revelation here. In contrast, Isabelle Blais is quite good as Nathalie, expressing a broad gamut of emotion with convincing restraint. However, Chow’s real find might be Julian Lo, who makes a strong impression as Johnny, Welles’s teenaged delivery-boy neighbor, whom he inadvertently pulls into his legal quagmire.

A major problem for Cost is the surfeit of obvious unasked questions that would have hastened the conclusion. (Frankly, it might have made an interesting thriller, with Welles knocking off everyone putting two and two together.) Still, it is never cheap or convenient it its handling of the heavy themes of forgiveness and redemption, which is definitely significant. Imperfect but showing promise, Cost begins a week of screenings this Friday (9/9) at the Tribeca Cinemas, along with other Tribeca distributed films, including the wickedly effective little horror film Grave Encounters.