Director: Michael McGowan
Starring: Joshua Jackson
One Week surprised me. I was expecting a standard issue road movie/finding yourself movie thinly disguising a travellogue. To some extent is it just that but it also manages to strike a deeper, more resonant chord. It was the last thing I was expecting, but this film reminded me a lot of the Marc Forster directed/Will Farrell starring Stranger Than Fiction which, to my mind, is a great compliment.
The film opens with Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson) in his doctor's office, receiving the news that he has stage 4 cancer. He hopefully asks how many stages there are and his doctor grimly advises that there are only four and that the survival rate is small. Still, there is a chance that he could beat it if he begins treatment. Before that happens, however, Ben decides that he wants to do a few things he's always wanted to, just in case he never has another chance. His fiancée, Samantha (Liane Balaban) thinks he's running away and behaving irrationally while he keeps putting off his return home, explaining to her that he's "not ready to be a patient yet."
Ben buys a motorcycle and, taking his cue from a message on a Tim Horton's cup, decides to drive west and see the country. Mostly he stops to see the giant landmarks that account for various towns claims to fame - a giant fire hydrant, a giant hockey stick*, etc. - but, as is natural with this kind of story, he also begins to find himself. As he considers his life from the perspective of not having much more of it left, he begins to realize all the ways that he's compromised and settled. An aspiring writer, he's allowed the rejection of his first novel by publishing houses to crush his ambitions and turned instead to teaching, which he finds unfulfilling at best and boring at worst. In every other aspect of his life he's made safe, reasonable choices that would ensure him a decent life, if not necessarily a happy one.
The best decision that this film makes is to supply Ben with a narrator who joins him on his travels. Whenever the film starts to verge to far into the realm of sentimentality, the narrator is able to pull it back with his wry commentary on the situation. Jackson is great in the lead role, but in many ways the narrator (voiced by Campbell Scott) is the more memorable character because he gets all the best lines. That being said, the film's success depends a great deal on Jackson, who manages to make Ben likeable and relatable even at moments when he might otherwise seem like a selfish jerk. Balaban, best known for her great performance in New Waterford Girl, is a better actress than required by this film, where she's relegated to the thankless "girlfriend role," but she manages nevertheless to breathe life into her character. She and Jackson have a nice, easy chemistry and are perfectly believable as a couple who have been together for a long time and have perhaps mistaken complacency for happiness.
It's a testament to the skill of writer/director Michael McGowan that though many things about this film are cliché and it won't be accused of breaking any new ground, it nevertheless manages to be quite moving. Alternately funny and philosophical, One Week strikes a deep chord without forgetting to keep the audience entertained. As a bonus, it also showcases some of the most beautiful places in Canada, although only those places from Toronto westward, which leaves a significant amout of the country unrepresented.
*small aside: if you're ever planning on visiting the landmarks showcased in this film, be aware that the world's biggest hockey stick is not in Manitoba, as it is in the film, but in Duncan, BC. I know this because I grew up in Duncan and played hockey in that rink.