Life is long and, once you hit middle age, it can be lonely and tedious. So when an unexpected wrinkle arrives in the form of an anonymous note taped to your apartment door from someone claiming to be your doppelganger, well, why not dive into the adventure and write back? Especially if you’re a frustrated creative-writing grad who’s working in a machine shop. What have you got to lose, really? (If you answered “a thumb,” you’re getting ahead of me here.)
The mysterious taped-up envelope launches the action in Doppelganger Paul, which sees Karl (Tygh Runyan), an orphaned trust-fund inheritor with a story to tell, pursue Paul (Brad Dryborough), the editor/machinist. The two, as it turns out, look nothing alike, but are about to share a strange and, of course, bonding experience.
Karl needs a friend. Or is it a muse he needs? An editor? He has written a messy manuscript about his life and his philosophies, and he shares this with Paul, who views it as the editing job of a lifetime. The book eventually attracts a great deal of attention, but not the way Karl – or the audience – had anticipated.
As the relationship between the guys deepens, the urban blight is interrupted by the lush beauty of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, which becomes an oasis for ideas and connection. This is where the guys meet for the first time – a sort of platonic blind date – and continue meeting as they collaborate on a second manuscript.
The mystery of the caper is great fun, unfolding as the guys jump in Paul’s beat-up Chevy Vandura for a road trip from Vancouver, where they live, south to a Portland, Ore., bookstore. (The absence of wine aside, comparisons to Sideways are inevitable, with the bearded, morose failed writer Paul recalling Paul Giamatti’s Miles, and the handsome but not quite as reliable Karl a smarter, more loyal stand-in for Thomas Haden Church’s Jack.
Co-directing for the first time, long-time collaborators Dylan Akio Smith (also director of photography and editor) and Kris Elgstrand (who wrote the screenplay) capture both the cinematic and emotional landscapes here in all their ugly splendour, while offering a smart, non-linear examination of authorship and creative piracy in an increasingly complex environment (although the art-theft methods employed here are all old world: paper, manipulation and outright deceit).
Dryborough and Runyan deliver spot-on performances in this buddy flick with a purpose; the chemistry between them is undeniable. Aside from a couple of silly, extended fight scenes, this is thoroughly entertaining stuff, and very funny. Bill Frisell provides a subtle, lovely soundtrack for the film, which premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The film feels a little long, but this is not its biggest flaw. Where it falls down is in the tacked-on, inauthentic romantic storyline. To begin with, it’s unnecessary: Do we really need romantic resolution for our happy ending? Is the establishment of a new adult friendship between two lost souls not resolution enough? Without venturing into spoiler territory, I’ll just say this plot point contradicts the can’t judge-a-book-by-its-cover premise that the truth is often a few layers down– not simply visible through a window. Also, in a film which otherwise delivers on unpredictability, this bit was telegraphed hard.
Which is too bad, because this is an otherwise unconventional and weirdly beautiful story with an important question at its core: Is life about making your mark, finding connection, or just about enjoying the view?
Doppelganger Paul opens at The Royal in Toronto Feb. 24, at the Vancity in Vancouver March 16 and at the Mayfair in Ottawa March 30.
- Written by Kris Elgstrand
- Directed by Dylan Akio Smith and Kris Elgstrand
- Starring Brad Dryborough and Tygh Runyan
- Classification: 14A
- 2.5 stars