You really don't need a plot to make the story of a guy driving across Canada into a worthwhile film experience. Those who've done it know the journey is transcendent enough.
Which is good news for One Week, the leisurely, middlebrow-contemplative road movie starring Joshua Jackson as a twentysomething who reacts to the news of his terminal cancer by ditching his responsibilities and fiance and hitting the road on a vintage motorbike.
The underpinnings of the story are hard to swallow in the extreme.
When we meet Ben, he's a failed writer-turned-English-teacher in Toronto, who, even before his diagnosis, seems to be suffering from midlife crisis 20 years early. He is an unexplained wound of shattered self-confidence, albeit one engaged to a gorgeous woman named Samantha (Liane Balaban), who turns out to be a bit of a control freak.
Luckily for the Updike-esque "Rabbit Run" that is central to this movie, the "stage four" cancer Ben turns out to be suffering from is what Mad magazine once dubbed (with relation to Love Story) "Old Movie Disease" -- ie., one that doesn't incapacitate you, but allows you to be healthy and vital long enough to play out a melodrama.
None of which matters, because One Week lives and dies, so to speak, on the strength of its scenery -- famous and eccentric landmarks such as Sudbury's Big Nickel, the Wawa Goose, the Terry Fox statue on the highway outside Thunder Bay, vistas from the Canadian Shield to the Prairies to the Rockies, all artfully framed by director Michael McGowan.
When he's on the road (with genial and frequent narration by Campbell Scott that sounds like it came from a trendy self-help book) One Week is alive.
When he's in his sleepwalker's existence in Toronto, the movie dies with him.
As must happen when one drives across the second largest country in the world, colourful characters (all with suitably Canadian pedigree) and happenstance collide head-on.
These include The Tragically Hip's Gord Downie as the movie's most memorable character, a philosophic pothead biker and cancer survivor who dispenses joie de vivre and plants the first seeds of doubt in Ben's marriage plans ("How do you know you're in love?" -- "If you have to ask, you aren't.").
There's also a tough-as-jerky Prairie farm woman who takes him in when he needs it, and a hippie girl (singer-songwriter Emm Gryner) he encounters in the mountains, and with whom he shares the night and a campfire singalong (a performance that awakens memories of the banal childhood incident that first made him doubt himself).
As if to gild the lily of how consummately Canadian this movie is, Ben even encounters (and gets to kiss) the Stanley Cup, brought home by a smalltown Prairie hockey hero.
Despite its morbid plot underpinnings (which are almost forgotten midstream, save for the occasional frantic cellphone call from Samantha, and sporadic coughing fits to remind us that this hale young man in biker gear is actually supposed to be dying),
One Week is less depressing than the average Canadian movie.
Maybe it's because -- though it often seems like a mission-statement for our filmmakers to drive us to suicide -- you can never feel more alive than when you see this country in all its glory.
(This film is rated 14-A)
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