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One Week (2008)
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by Jason Whyte

"A unique and memorable Canadian feature film."
5 stars

Rarely does a film like this come along that moves me to tears, inspires me to use the time that I have left and has left me in utter awe of a filmmaker that is bound to have a long and lasting future creating films. Rare even more is the fact that “One Week” is the best example of Canadian cinema, one that transcends the usual clichés associated with films from up North.

“One Week” immediately opens on a shot of Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson) who is told he has cancer and may have a short time on this planet. The way that Ben learns this is an immediate disapproval, along with a series of shots involving a bird smacking against the window and an imagined suicide. His girlfriend Samantha (Liane Balaban, also in the recent “Last Chance Harvey”) wants him to stay and fight despite having a ten percent chance of survival. Instead of choosing to fight the odds and remain in a hospital bed, he purchases a motorbike and drives from Toronto to Tofino. Is he running? Is he being a coward? Has he always wanted to do this? The reason I’m sure we Canadians can relate to; the immortal Tim Horton’s cup told him to “Go West, Young Man”.

Much of the film is narrated by the voice of Campbell Scott, who provides an absolutely essential backbone and, most importantly, a sense of character and humor to the story. Instead of feeling dread for Ben, we feel alive watching the film as Ben’s joy in discovering a part of the country he has never seen before. The provinces west of Toronto get their respect, from the plains of Saskatchewan to the visceral beauty of the Western shore. I also live here, so perhaps I’m bias, but it is (as one character also puts it) the most beautiful place in the world.

It also shows – with tongue firmly in cheek -- many large representations of objects where the creators simply did it so they could just be the “largest in the world of”. As the narrator remarks, Ben was left underwhelmed by the world’s largest Tee-Pee somewhere in Manitoba. Later, there’s an emormous paperclip, a huge hockey stick and many oddball tourist attractions along the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The film reminded me, amazingly enough, of the 2006 film “The World’s Fastest Indian”, where in that film Burt Munro was a man from New Zealand who built this old infernal racket of a motorbike and was destined to race the Arizona Salt Flats. The film could have just been about racing his bike, but instead it wisely chose to his character on his path there and how he meets a bunch of interesting folk along his trip. “One Week” also does this; from the lovely farm hand who rescues Ben when his car breaks down, to a woman hiking in the woods Ben spends a night with, and in particular a great scene where he meets a philosopher (played by Gord Downie, of all people) who inspires the film’s best line. When Ben asks when he knows he’s in love, the philosopher responds “If you have to ask…you aren’t.”

The film is also wonderful in how it picks up on the little moments in life. When Ben meets a foreign couple on the beach, he obliges to take their photo. The film is wise enough to make comment on what that photo really means to that couple. Earlier, there’s a wonderful sequence where we see the effect that Ben’s visit had on the aforementioned farm hand. This scene made me stop and think for a second: what do the effects of simply running into someone have in the long term? How and where would we be if we didn’t rely on the kindness of strangers?

All of “One Week” is like that, a great kind of film not just about character but about feeling. The beauty and poignancy of the story will stick with you for a long time. There’s a particularly poignant scene later in the film, where Ben and Samantha meet in Banff and Samantha argues that he should come home and start treatment “for us”, meaning that its integral to THEIR relationship. “This isn’t about us, it’s about ME,” Ben responds in a crucial tone. While initially it sounds self centered, pause and think about that for a second. The way that Ben states this is correct, as he does have to find his own heart and way in life; yes, he’s in a relationship with Samantha, but people need their own moments of self discovery. (The fact that she’s too smothering and needy also can’t help Ben’s plight.) He has to find himself on his own.

Joshua Jackson, who is known mostly for “Dawson’s Creek” and years ago in “The Mighty Ducks” films, gives his first adult and wise performance as a man who truly wants to find himself in his cross country trek. As Samantha, Liane Balaban looks a lot like Natalie Portman but with her own, wise edge who learns how to come to terms with Ben’s illness, despite their clear disagreement on how to go about it. She is on screen far less than Jackson but nevertheless makes an impression.

Michael McGowan, who in his second sophomore feature (his first was the terrific “Saint Ralph” which enjoyed a successful release in Canada and the US) has a great knack for getting the vision on screen. The cinematography is gorgeous; yes, it does have a Canadian Travelogue feel to it, but I also liked the photograph edits as Ben snaps his trusty digital camera along his trip. And McGowan knows when and how to use the music in his soundtrack. Much of the songs are from known Canadian artists but they don’t stick out at all. If anything, they become Ben’s soundtrack as he heads out west.

The film’s final passages moved me to tears, especially when it is revealed the true nature of the story and how it locks everything into place. “One Week” is a great, memorable film, the kind that makes you stop and think exactly about the time we have and what we’re doing with each moment.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17729&reviewer=350
originally posted: 02/11/09 15:06:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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6/18/09 Lorna Chambers Excellent movie 5 stars
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  DVD: 29-Mar-2011



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