The High Cost of Living

28 May

Title: The High Cost of Living
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Deborah Chow
Writer: Deborah Chow
Starring: 
Zach Braff, Isabelle Blais, Patrick Labbé, Julian Lo
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
92 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
50%

The High Cost of Living is far from the best film I have seen this year, though it’s still quite good, but it’s one I feel quite lucky to have seen. That’s because this is a small film, one that I’m sure won’t get to be seen by as many people as it should, and the fact that I got to watch it is something I truly appreciate. Because for as many faults as this film may have had, and it had a few, I consider it to be a spectacular debut for writer-director Deborah Chow, who here directs some truly heart-wrenching performances and scenes, made all that much better because of her script, which was just beautifully articulated and that dictated the pace of this film in a phenomenal way.

Zach Braff stars in this one, and he’s obviously best known for his work in the dearly missed TV comedy Scrubs, a role which lasted nine years and that got him three Golden Globe nominations as well as one Emmy nomination, and as J.D. he got a huge amount of fans that knew just how hilarious he could be. However, if you’ve seen 2004’s Garden State, which he wrote, directed and starred in (and which was my second favorite film of that year), you know just how great the guy can be when given more serious material, and how much he can wear his heart on his sleeve and appear vulnerable in the greatest of ways. So it says a lot about the script of Ms. Chow that she could have gotten him for her feature debut, as well as her fellow Canadian Isabelle Blais, an actress who had a role in The Barbarian Invasions, the amazing film that won Canada the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The film is set in Montreal, a city that is shot beautifully in a way that gives The High Cost of Living a mood that really serves to captivate us and that makes it so wonderfully stylized. And the story it tells is an unusual one, made to seem plausible just because it’s so exquisitely written and acted. You see, Mr. Braff plays Henry, an American living in Montreal who for some reason, though clearly a smart young man who probably could have done all right for himself, has chosen the path of becoming a prescription drug dealer. And then one night as he’s leaving a bar while drunk, he goes the wrong way on a street and hits a pregnant woman and then flees from the scene, leaving here there.

And this is when the situation really gets quite interesting, and when the talents of Ms. Chow and her actors really show. Because, you see, the woman Henry ran over, Nathalie, lost her baby in the crash, and her workaholic husband offers no support to her in such a tragic situation. And Henry’s conscience starts eating away at him, so he decides he should track Nathalie down and see how she’s doing, but he starts developing feelings towards her, so a confession about what he did becomes hard. This is very tricky territory to go into, and even though it’s not necessarily handled to perfection it is still handled commendably well by a director making her debut, as she crafts a perfect observation of really complex human emotions, one that feels remarkably real in its urgency, though not as much when it tries to balance out the romance in it.

Even though I probably won’t give this one an overwhelming positive grade I have to repeat myself and say that I still think of myself as extremely lucky to have gotten to see this one, because stories like the one we get here don’t come around all that often, one in which a writer-director doesn’t hesitate to come up with a truly awful situation in which to put her characters into and isn’t afraid to just lay back and watch them deal with it. I mean, really, imagine being in either of their shoes. Henry tries to do everything to find out if she and the baby made it alive, slowly being eaten away by his conscience. And then you have Nathalie, neglected by her husband and, what’s worse, her doctor says it’ll be a few weeks before they can schedule a surgery to get the dead fetus out of her. That of course means that she has to go weeks with people thinking she’s pregnant when she isn’t, and it also means that when Henry finally sees her he assumes everything went relatively okay and neither her or the baby were harmed in the accident. Imagine being him, thinking that his foolishness at least didn’t do anyone harm and then finding out just how much it did.

There are a couple of tiny flaws in the structure of it all to me, but everyone involved in the making of this film really just wanted to pay attention to the drama of the story. We start thinking about Henry, is he doing the right thing trying to make for something so unforgivable? Because the whole film plays off the idea of when and if he’s going to tell Nathalie the truth, and every time he seems to be close to telling her she drops something huge on him that stops him from doing it.

The characters have problems, obviously, the relationship that starts developing with Nathalie and Henry, especially when the romantic undertones start coming up, seems too implausible for us to really lose ourselves in it. But it’s Mr. Braff’s and Ms. Blais’ abilities that make it much more than it should be, he makes a character that would be so easy to hate one that we can actually sympathize with and together they make the most of what they get. And even though this isn’t a perfect debut for Ms. Chow, it’s still one that shows some incredible qualities from her considering this is her first effort, and you can count me very much in for whatever she decides to do next.

Grade: B

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