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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Canadian Film Review: 2 Frogs in the West (2010)

* 1/2

Director: Dany Papineau
Starring: Mirianne Brule, Dany Papineau

If nothing else, Dany Papineau's 2 Frogs in the West demonstrates that it's possible for a film to be bad, while still showcasing the positive potential of its writer/director. I realize that that probably sounds strange, but hear me out: the deficiencies of 2 Frogs are so glaringly obvious that I think it will take little for Papineau to mature out of them as an artist, and the strengths of the film are such that they demonstrate that Papineau has a solid enough base as a filmmaker to make the necessary improvements. Does that make 2 Frogs worth seeing? Probably not, but should Papineau continue to write and direct, it'll make for an interesting starting point when tracing the trajectory of his work.

Not quite a coming-of-age story, as it involves twenty-somethings rather than teens, 2 Frogs is a film about defining an adult identity. It centers on Marie (Mirianne Brule) who, against her parents' objections, decides to leave her home in Quebec, drop out of University and quit her job in order to go out West and see what it has to offer. Though the friend she was meant to travel with drops out almost as soon as the journey starts, Marie carries on, hitchhiking her way through Ontario and the Prairies, eventually setting down in Whistler. After getting off to a rough start there, including losing all her possessions when they're stolen from a youth hostel, she meets the film's version of the knight in shining armour, Jean-Francois (Papineau), a fellow Quebequois transplant who, in short order, gives her the lay of the land in Whistler, rescues her from being raped at a party, and offers to let her move in with himself and his roommates, Gaby (Jessica Malka) and Brad (Brandon Barton). Not one to be outdone, Gaby, who is Jean-Francois' ex-girlfriend in addition to being Marie's other love interest, also helps Marie find a job as a chamber maid at a hotel.

Things are going well for a while, but a series of disasters, most minor, one major, begin to chip away at the life that Marie is trying to establish for herself. Jean-Francois is injured while skiing out of bounds which not only voids his insurance and leaves him with a large debt for the air ambulance that got him off the mountain, but also ends his ski career. No longer able to ski, Jean-Francois doesn't have many reasons to stay in Whistler, even if he could afford it, and his recovery draws Marie closer to him and away from Gaby. Meanwhile, Marie's family continues to pressure her to give up on what they see as her ludicrous adventure and come home and her resolve to make her own way begins to weaken.

When 2 Frogs works, it's largely as a travellogue and may make you wish that Papineau spent more time covering Marie's crosscountry journey. Similiarly, the ski and snowboarding footage may make you wish that more time was spent in that arena, as the sequences are beautifully shot (Whistler might want to consider using some of the footage in its advertising). The film looks really great and Papineau knows how to move the camera to his best advantage. The problems with the film are almost entirely structural and centered on the script, which is full of contrivance and lazy plotting. Consider some of the following: in one scene Gaby tries to stab Jean-Francois because of their own history and because of the situation with Marie. The incident is never mentioned again and by the end of the film, without any development whatsoever, all three are friends again as if nothing had ever happened. Or consider that Jean-Francois is supposed to be this great guy who wants nothing more than to look out for Marie, but also has no qualms about remaining friends with the guy who roofied her and tried to rape her (and videotape it) - and nevermind the fact that Marie later becomes friends with that same guy. Or that Marie, who is desperate for a job so that she can prove to herself and her family that she can make it in the West, risks that job on the first day by getting stoned at work. There's no consistency to the characters from one scene to the next, so there's no real reason to care about them.

Despite problems with the script, the actors equip themselves well enough and bear none of the blame for how disappointing the film ultimately turns out to be. The problems with 2 Frogs are based pretty much entirely in the screenplay. A few more drafts and the film probably would have been salvagable - if not "great," then at least good enough that its other elements, fine as they are, would have made up for the story's shortcomings.

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