Director Mike Clattenburg returns to Dartmouth for Moving Day, a downbeat, kind of muddled but smartly cast ensemble dramedy about a motley crew of moving-company co-workers wielding some serious baggage and all heading toward their own personal breaking points.
Best known as the creative force behind the long-running cult TV series Trailer Park Boys and its two popular movie offshoots, Clattenburg ventured into a jumbled minefield of raunchy clichés and stale gags with his first non-Trailer-Boys feature Afghan Luke (2011). But Moving Day, formerly titled The Guys Who Move Furniture (a more apt title but tricky to fit on a poster), finds Clattenburg striving to make more mainstream-targeted big-screen moves on familiar terrain.
Boredom plus scheming plus refined (the “precise to a fine degree” as opposed to “free from vulgarity” meaning of the word) characters proved a winning combo for Trailer Park Boys. For those who resisted tuning in, the series followed a mockumentary structure – harder to pull off than it might seem – but its edge really came from the persistent note of pathos that gave viewers that awkward “Uh, should I really be laughing at this?” feeling.
Moving Day is about warm and fuzzy dreams as opposed to ill-fated criminal schemes. And while its players engage in plenty of lively improv exchanges (light on the vulgarity), its perspective is not moc-doc. Yet like Trailer Park Boys, the movie works the pathos, especially when it comes to the affable, moderately slow-witted lunk Clyde, played with gentle, bumbling charm by B.C.-raised comic actor Will Sasso (the Farrelly brothers’ Three Stooges, MADtv).
If you search “Moving Day” on the Internet Movie Database you find numerous entries for comedy shorts from the silent era; if you’ve ever had a moving-day mishap (mine involves an upright piano – don’t ask) you understand why the subject has endured. But the serious mishaps Clyde experiences in the film’s opening scenes are not mere slapstick – they push Clyde into paranoia (illustrated by surreal and darkly funny nightmare scenes) and a deep funk.
His short-term goal is to keep a particular weekend free so he can be with his two kids, whom he rarely sees; his long-term goal is to leave Redmond’s Furniture and Moving and get a union job with the city’s outdoor road crews. He arrives at work after the incidents expecting to be laid off.
His uptight sister (Gabrielle Miller of Corner Gas renown) cares but is too focussed on her own neurotic concerns for her brother’s plight to register fully. Clyde’s boss Wilf (the wonderful Victor Garber), who is obsessed with his tiny elastic-band eating canine and with a major company secret, puts Clyde on probation and then (with a Turtle candy as bait) deftly extracts information about AJ (Gabriel Hogan), the handsome crew boss with serious drinking and womanizing issues.
Rounding out the crew are Dennis, played by Jonny Harris (Constable Crabtree on Murdoch Mysteries), a wannabe rock star who relentlessly harasses Clyde and deserves a comeuppance, and Cedric (comedian Charlie Murphy), the quick-witted ex-con elder statesman and Clyde’s only true friend; Murphy delivers the film’s most sparkling, upbeat performance, almost stealing the show with his energy and focus.
In the end, Moving Day wavers too much between dark and light and doesn’t quite deliver the populist package Clattenburg seems to be going for. Still, top-notch performances from the entire cast and some of the film’s more eccentric humour should satisfy the director’s fans.
Moving Day opens Friday in Toronto and Halifax.