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The High Cost of Living: Contrived story makes for a bit of a car crash

Zach Braff in a scene from The High Cost of Living.

Jan Thijs/Jan Thijs

2 out of 4 stars


Also reviewed here: Lost Journey (written and directed by Ant Horasanli)

Tragedy leads to redemption in a few unconvincing steps in Deborah Chow's moody debut feature, The High Cost of Living. The winner of best Canadian first feature at the Toronto International Film Festival last year as well as one of TIFF's Canada's Top 10, the film follows a decade-long mini-genre of dramas built around fatal traffic accidents ( Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Red Road, Reservation Road).

In this iteration, set on the streets of Montreal, the death is of an unborn child, killed when his mother is struck down by a hit-and-run driver.

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Chow's film starts with Henry (Zach Braff of Scrubs and Garden State fame), a scruffy guy driving through Montreal's night streets, making his round of clubs and strip bars on a drug-dealing run. Not a completely bad guy, he has a warm relationship with his Chinese-Canadian landlords and scores methadone for a stripper to help her kick heroin.

In a parallel sequence, we are introduced to a middle-class couple, the pregnant Nathalie and her workaholic, inattentive husband Michel (Patrick Labbé). Nathalie's alone the night she starts having contractions and, when she steps onto the street to flag a taxi, she's struck down by Henry's car. Slightly drunk and carrying drugs, Henry takes off, leaving her on the street. The baby is dead, but Nathalie will have to carry it until she's well enough to deliver it. Her husband changes from insensitive to bizarrely callous toward his wife.

Henry hires his landlord's teenaged son (Julian Lo) to find Nathalie and insinuate himself into her life. After she leaves her husband, Henry persuades her to come to his apartment for the night, where he becomes her adoring caretaker, even reading from Proust to help her fall asleep. A subplot involves another suspect in risk of conviction, pushing Henry to come clean.

An already iffy premise is badly served by a film that is tonally jarring, with Braff flirting with the suffering woman. To the degree the film is credible at all, it's thanks to Quebec actress Isabelle Blais ( Soft Shell Man, The Barbarian Invasions), whose portrayal of a woman stunned by shock and grief makes the story almost plausible, rather than gruesomely contrived.

* * * * *

Iranian-Canadian director Ant Horasanli's Lost Journey is another Canadian melodrama and another story of drug abuse. It follows the misadventures of an Iranian student, Pedram (Reza Sholeh), who is sent to live in Toronto with his aunt and uncle.

Pedram, a handsome, 19-year-old teddy bear, arrives in his new home full of high aspirations and old-world morality, both of which he soon sheds. He falls in with a hard-partying crowd who hit the clubs, dropping ecstasy, getting laid and skipping school.

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Director Horasanli, who has worked in music video, shows lots of technical savvy (split-image nightclub sequences with a pulsing soundtrack) and has assembled a solid cast to represent the Iranian-Canadian family, including Los Angeles-based Iranian pop star Andy Madadian as the world's hippest English-as-a-second-language teacher.

The shame here is that they're attached to a script as one-dimensional as a 1950s teen guidance film. You could imagine Lost Journey used to caution parent groups in Iran under the title: "So you're thinking of sending your son to Canada …"

The High Cost of Living

  • Written and directed by Deborah Chow
  • Starring Zach Braff and Isabelle Blais
  • Classification: 14A

Lost Journey

  • Written and directed by Ant Horasanli
  • Starring Reza Sholeh
  • Classification: 14A
  • 2 stars
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