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Down River: It aims for poignancy, but settles for pat life lessons

2 out of 4 stars

Title
Down River
Written by
Benjamin Ratner
Directed by
Benjamin Ratner
Starring
Helen Shaver, Gabrielle Miller, Jennifer Spence and Colleen Rennison
Genre
Drama
Classification
14A
Country
Canada
Language
English
Year
2014

Down River was inspired by director Ben Ratner's late friend, actress Babz Chula (My American Cousin), whose journey to India to treat her cancer was chronicled in Anne Wheeler's documentary, Chi (2013). Ratner, aided by a game cast of veteran women actresses, aims for poignancy, but settles for pat life lessons. Helen Shaver stars as Pearl, a vital, middle-aged woman who keeps her terminal cancer from the three young women artists who are her surrogate daughters. They include a repressed Christian actress (Gabrielle Miller), a selfish rock singer (Colleen Rennison) and a timid Japanese-Canadian painter, Aki (Jennifer Spence). As a farewell gift, Pearl offers her tough-love advice to each woman: The rock singer needs to grow up, the painter needs to be a brave "samurai warrior" (really?) and the Christian actress needs to get laid. Apart from a few friendly, low-key scenes with Pearl and her mensch neighbour (Jay Brazeau), the pacing feels forced, cross-cutting between the three women's erotic and career complications, occasionally pausing for a mournful song on the soundtrack.

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