One Week (2009) dir. Michael McGowan
Starring: Joshua Jackson, Liane Balaban
The Canadian theatrical release of the week, is "One Week", a domestic production given a rare 'wide' release in most major cities up here. Writer/director Michael McGowan puts his character through the Canadian rite of passage, the cross-country road trip from Toronto to Victoria, with its glorious landscape, a few celebs and all the down home hoser quirkiness in between. But it’s really a somber tale of a man dying of cancer and his journey of self-discovery at the end of his life told with ample doses of sentimentality and often excessive profoundness.
McGowan gets right to the point and drops the big C on us in the opening line. Joshua Jackson is Ben Tyler and he gets the worst news of his life. His doctor tells him he has stage four of cancer, the worst kind, which means, even with treatment, he will not likely live past 4 months. It's a devastating blow, the emotions of which are told to us by Campbell Scott, who will go on to narrate Ben's inner thoughts like an omniscient storyteller. Ben runs off with nowhere to go and stumbles upon an old man selling a vintage motorbike. Like fate the two dying souls are meant to be together.
The idea of driving across Canada in a motorcycle is complicated by Ben’s fiancée Samantha (Liane Balaban), who wants Ben to do what’s expected of him, to be with his family, get treatment and hope for the best, however low the odds. Ben’s instinct, visualized by a Tim Horton’s ‘roll-up-the-rim-to-win’ coffee cup, says for him to ‘go west’ and complete his adventure. Set to a soundtrack of indie-rock-pop tunes, we watch Ben go through the rural part of the country stopping at every corny tourist landmark he can find – ‘the big nickel’ in Sudbury, ‘the world’s largest teepee’, the world largest paperclip etc. The longer he becomes separated from Samantha the more he realizes how much he’s not in love with her.
“One Week” is a grim affair, a consistent tone of somber poignant melancholy, rarely wavering off this downward path. McGowan seems so concerned with touching us with heartfelt acoustic campfire songs and perceptive quotations he forgets to distract us with drama and conflict, excitement and exhilaration of the journey. The people he meets along the way - a Calgarian horse rancher, “The Tragically Hip’s” Gord Downie (a Canadian rock god for those unaware) as a pot smoking cancer survivor, an Anaheim Might Duck (remember Jackson was in those Disney Mighty Ducks films) who lets him kiss the Stanley Cup, a folk singing camper who tests his love for his fiance - are equally as self-aware as he.
Campbell Scott’s objective narration, used for the same whimsy effect as the voiceover in “Amelie”, works well against Joshua Jackson’s understated internalized performance. His profound realizations are the same ones typical of that twenty-something mid-midlife crisis when we realize we either a) don’t want to be like one’s father b) we’ve never really accomplished anything worthy of the preciousness of one’s life.
The enjoyment of the film doesn’t come from these realizations, but the act of going on the journey, and not explaining the reason to do it. In the end, it’s McGowan’s tone which could easily be analyzed and picked apart for it’s straightline conventionality, but there’s no point because life’s too precious for that. Just tag along for the ride.