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Narrator-protagonist Tim (Ed Oxenbould), left, is a smart but socially awkward high schooler who hopes to find friendship with French exchange student Stéphane (Avan Jogia) in The Exchange.

Albert Camicioli/Elevation Pictures

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  • The Exchange
  • Directed by Dan Mazer
  • Written by Tim Long
  • Starring Ed Oxenbould, Avan Jogia and Justin Hartley
  • Classification N/A; 93 minutes
  • Opens July 30 in theatres and available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and Google Play

Critic’s Pick

In this delightful teen comedy, a giant white squirrel costume is destroyed. It’s a metaphor – white squirrels, being rare, stand out and are shunned by other rodents. Later, an Egyptian-Canadian man laughs when he’s told that Canadians are a tolerant people. It’s funny, because it’s not true.

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Directed by Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Dan Mazer and written by Canadian Tim Long, The Exchange is set in the small-town Canada of the recessionary 1980s. Think beanbag chairs, clunky Chevy Caprices, economic anxiety and casual xenophobia.

The narrator-protagonist Tim (played by Ed Oxenbould) is a smart but socially awkward high-schooler who nerds out over Truffaut films and anything Parisian. He’s not well liked; even the kid in a wheelchair bullies him. Friendless, he invites in an exchange student from France – a mail-order buddy.

Paul Braunstein and Jennifer Irwin star in Dan Mazer's The Exchange, written by Canadian Tim Long.

Albert Camicioli/Elevation Pictures

Unfortunately, the incoming Stéphane is anything but très cool. He’s crude, cologne-soaked and wears acid-wash clothing. Cultured? He probably thinks French New Wave is a trendy haircut. Tim and Stéphane are non-attracting opposites. The former likes The Smiths, for example, while the latter is in favour of cheesy Sussudio synth-pop.

To Tim’s exasperation, the quickly popular Stéphane scores with the girls and on the soccer pitch. The townspeople and the school kids initially love the newcomer, only to turn on him eventually – not because he’s French, but because he’s different. His skin is dark. Where did he say he was from?

One of Tim’s boorish fellow students in French class says his favourite film is Porky’s Revenge!, or “Porky’s trois.” The Exchange is aimed at teens, and it is a coming-of-age comedy, but it’s no Porky’s. There’s not-so-subtle social commentary at work. Canada’s self-satisfied claim of superiority over Americans when it comes to racial harmony is lampooned. The Exchange flips the script – and it’s funny, because it’s true.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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