April 13, 2007
Everything's Gone Green
Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ***
The title of the new film written by Gen-X novelist Douglas Coupland and directed by Paul Cox, Everything's Gone Green [trailer] may disappoint those looking for a film about environmentalism but it does have a double-meaning, to amusing effect. The story centers around a self-described "loser" named Ryan (played by Paulo Costanzo) who, in typical Coupland style, struggles to become a real adult and discover meaning in his life. While a few of the set-ups seem lifted straight from Coupland's novel "jpod", to its credit Green is more cinematically inclined than Coupland's often plotless, talky novels and director Cox has a keen eye for the Vancouver surroundings while letting scenes build naturally.
The film begins with a series of unfortunate events: Ryan loses his McJob and his McGirlfriend all on the same day his family loses a potential winning lottery ticket. The departing girlfriend tells him, "My therapeutic life coach helped me rehearse this," takes a deep breath, "You're not awakening the warrior within." By a fluke chance (the first act of the film is full of such coincidences), Ryan gets a job working for the National Lottery Board's magazine devoted to lottery winners. By another fluke chance - literally - Ryan stops to look at a giant beached whale, where he meets the lovely Ming (a luminous Steph Song), a set dresser for movies shooting in Vancouver. I've heard one of the best place to meet potential paramours is next to a rotting cetacean carcass, but never mind - it's a sweetly handled scene. The only problem? Ming has a boyfriend, the amusingly beleaguered and bitter Bryce (a perfectly cast JR Bourne), who is more schemer than dreamer. Their odd rivalry forms the spine of the film, as they end up working together on a lottery scam, while Ryan keeps his eye on the real prize - Ming.
Ryan's job, interviewing and photographing lottery winners, makes for amusing sidebar sequences using photo montages. Seeing all the other people who have struck it rich depresses Ryan until he sees how even winning the lottery doesn't necessarily mean the dream life.
Costanzo, who has played sidekick characters both in film (Road Trip) and TV ("Ed"), is a very likable presence, with a low-key, natural charm that makes you root for him even when his character's being a misguided idiot. The rest of the cast fills in around him nicely, from Tom Butler and Susan Hogan as his earnest parents, who stumble on a get rich quick scheme of their own to hilarious effect, to Chiu-Lin Tam, highly memorable as Ming's irascible, paranoid but sweet Granny. Gordon Michael Woolvett nicely underplays is role as Ryan's pal Spike, a slacker on the surface but clever and entrepreneurial underneath.
Comparisons with Office Space are inevitable - rebelling against the workforce, scheming to embezzle, deadpan characters, observations about the emptiness of our modern technologically inclined society - but Green has it's own shambling style. (Director Cox couldn't resist a few Garden State-esque montages-set-to-music, however.) While some of Coupland's observations about our obsession with greed and technology are spot-on, he does get a few minor details wrong - a comment about using a palm tree to recreate Northern California makes me wonder if he's been here; the cheesy science fiction movie "made for HBO" would more realistically have been made for the Sci-Fi Channel; and so on - but these nitpicks aside, the film smartly gets the zeitgeist right, of a world gone mad with competition.
As with most of Coupland's novels, however, the plot is slight and there are those contrivances that must be forgiven; endings, too, are not his strong suit. Despite all that, what the film really has in its favor is Costanzo and Song, both effortlessly charming and natural; they, and the gorgeous British Columbia scenery, make the film feel fresh. A nice, jangly pop soundtrack by Canadian groups helps buoy things along, too.
Everything's Gone Green feels fresher than it is, aided by a most appealing cast, and if it doesn't have quite the energy to make a lot of green itself, it deserves a look. If nothing else, it'll make you want to visit Vancouver (when it's sunny; the movie was obviously filmed in the middle of summer.)
Posted by cphillips at April 13, 2007 12:48 PM