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SNOW CAKE (2006)

Welsh-born film director, Marc Evans, who has given us HOUSE OF AMERICA (1997), and RESURRECTION MAN (1998), with Stuart Townsent, stepped back from the Thriller/Horror genre, and was lured to the wilds of Wawa, Ontario—a small northern Canadian town of 4,000 located on the shores of Lake Superior, that is lorded over by a huge 28-foot statue of a snow goose, [Wawa takes its name from the Ojibwe word for “wild goose”], by a very sensitive script written by Angela Pell, and a powerhouse dream cast. SNOW CAKE is a film about pain, retribution, angst, revenge, inner demons, middle-aged angst and sex, disabilities, small town idiosyncrasies and politics, acceptance, and love—that can rear its beautiful mug in the dangdest places at the weirdest times.

 

Evans has directed 16 films since 1990. He had a big hit with TRAUMA (2004), with Colin Firth and Mena Suvarei, a chilling study of amnesia and despair. Like his pal, director Michael Winterbottom, he is an activist, and his film, IN PRISON MY WHOLE LIFE (2007) a documentary on former Black Panther member, Mumia Aba-Jamal, was not a critical success. He is in production on a pet project, CAITLIN (2008), a bio pic on the life of poet Dylan Thomas, starring Michael Sheen and Pierce Brosnan. He tried to put together a musical with Catherine Zeta-Jones, but it fell through.

 

Stella Papamichael of BBC.COM wrote, “It is precarious terrain for the director, Marc Evans, too, yet he manages to make an awful situation funny without undermining the tragedy.”

 

During the winter 27 day shooting in Wawa an unexpected warm spell melted almost all the snow. So Evan’s film crew was forced to bring in truckloads of snow picked up outside of town. They also had to lay fake snow in several places to maintain the continuity of a “winter shoot”. Ironically, the filming of SNOW CAKE might have been the last great event for that town. Several mines had closed down and the town was barely holding things together with the odd tourist, and the work at the Weyerhauser mill, east of town. But in 2007, Weyerhauser announced the “indefinite shutdown” of its mill. Considering that corporation had given 137 people good jobs, the town has suffered a devastating set back, and people have had to move out in droves. So the images of a quaint little Canadian town in the film might be the apex of prosperity for them. They could become a living ghost town, a wide spot in the road.

 

Angela Pell was the screenwriter, and her wonderfully personal script was the touchstone for the whole company. SNOW CAKE is her first screenplay. Living in England, she is married to writer/comedian Henry Normal, and they have co-written BAFTA winning skits for THE SKETCH SHOW, and they co-wrote a 70-minute Brit comedy drama called NORFOLK BROADS. She has had 2 books published, as well as a four-part radio play; and she is currently writing her second screenplay. She has an autistic son, 7 year old Johnny. Many of the character Linda’s idiosyncrasies are those of Pell’s own son. She has stated that she wrote the part of Alex Hughes with Alan Rickman in mind. The character’s name in the script was “Alan”, and it was Rickman who suggested the name change to Alex.

 

Angela Pell said in an interview, “SNOW CAKE is the first thing I have ever produced. A long time ago I was a performance poet and had a book published—but I used to get so sick with nerves before going on stage that I had to stop. I’ve written sitcoms and films over the years with other people, and as my husband, Henry, is a TV producer, I have had opportunity to read 100% of the (really awful) scripts. This is the way I’ve learned my craft. I think that when you read “bad stuff”, it gets your imagination working overtime on how you would do it differently—much better than reading published scripts of great films…how can you improve on them? I teach my 7 year old autistic son at home. We have been doing the American SON RISE program with him for 4 years now. It is a play-based program; consequently I spend all day tickling, chasing, and dressing up as monsters—ghosts—SpiderMan, etc. God it’s tough! Henry and I have been together for 15 years. We met when I was at the University in Manchester, at a poetry group called THE LIVE POET’S SOCIETY. We now live in Brighton, England. I had taught Drama to deaf kids and young offenders for seven years before we had Johnny.”

 

Carina Chocano of THE LA TIMES wrote, “Modest but well-wrought and witty, SNOW CAKE is full of unexpected moments and clever observations, and despite a sparse quality, it makes a good case for the idea that you’re never too late, or too far gone, to connect with or understand others.”

 

Louise Keller of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Angela Pell’s screenplay is fearless as it skillfully weaves together the complexities of the characters…”

 

Andrew L. Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Any synopsis of this movie’s storyline will be incomplete because what the written word can never duplicate is the sense of an emotion expressed on the face of a character on screen, from its beginning through to its full flowering. SNOW CAKE is blessed with a wonderful screenplay as its starting point, but it is executed with such a deft set of performances, and with such meticulous direction, that it surpasses its premise.”

 

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “Mostly, Angela Pell presents characters out of sync with their lives, uncomfortable in their bodies, and overly protective of their emotions. There is one live wire [Vivienne], but she must die early for these people to connect at all.”

 

Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “Filmed in the winter wonderland that is Wawa, an Ontario town on the edge of edge of Lake Superior, a place with a view and a large statue of a goose overlooking the lake, director Marc Evans and writer Angela Pell could not have picked a better location. If nothing else, every time the story looks like that it will fall into rank soap opera, Evans finds a way to move the action outside. It is gorgeous out there, and the good acting helps too—good reasons enough to check out this film.”

 

The cinematography for SNOW CAKE was done by Canadian lenser, Steve Cosens. He had set at the helm and photographed 22 films since 1997, like THE UNCLES (2000). A film he did for the A&E Nework really caught my eye a few years ago; THE RIVERMAN (2004), starring Bruce Greenwood as the profiler searching for the Green River killer, who finds himself interviewing Ted Bundy (Cary Elwes).

 

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “Cinematographer Steve Cosens often keeps the camera close, as if the world were hemming in on these characters. He and set designer Matthew Davies make the dusty, snowy town feel as desolate as their lives. Canadian rock band, Broken Social Scene supplies a restless musical accompaniment.”

 

The poster tagline was, “sometimes stopping is the most important part of the journey.” An ex-convict, Alex (Alan Rickman) was on a road trip, a painful and emotional odyssey, to Winnipeg. He harbored dark secrets and stress, and we are not at first aware of the exact nature of his “crime”. At a truck stop diner, the reserved and taciturn Alex met a loquacious, bubbly, sweet yet eccentric young woman—Vivienne (Emily Hampshire). Reluctantly, Alex offered a ride to Wawa.

 

Tragically, just as they pulled out onto the highway they were T-boned by an 18 wheeler semi. Vivienne was killed, but Alex emerged without a scratch. Traumatized, he decided to contact the girl’s mother to convey his condolences and regrets. When he met the mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), he was confronted with a middle-aged highly-functioning autistic woman. She seemed to beguile him with her lack of emotion, and she invited him to stay with her until Vivienne’s funeral—so that he could, “take out the garbage on Tuesday. Vivienne always did that. I don’t do garbage.”

 

Linda: Have you ever had an orgasm, Alex?

Alex: It has been known.

Linda: It sounds like an inferior version of what I feel when I have a mouthful of snow.

(Shoves some into her mouth).

 

Alex did stay for several days, and he found a gentle way to co-exist with Linda’s eccentricities, her obsession with cleanliness, her fascination with “sparkling” things, her need to jump often on her trampoline, her love of eating snow, and her need to keep all hands and feet out of her kitchen. Soon Alex met the attractive next-door neighbor, Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss), and they made an attempt to “start” a relationship. Before the funeral, we discovered Alex’s pain-ridden past, and why he railed so emotionally against the truck driver (Callum Keith Rennie)—we met Linda’s wonderful parents, who had raised Vivienne, and we learned to appreciate the relative independence that Linda had carved out laboriously for her self.

 

The Canadian Juno Award-winning Indie rock supergroup, BROKEN-SOCIAL SCENE was approached to score the film, and it flew out to London to do so. Emily Hampshire introduced director Marc Evans to the band during their production time. The band is a “musical collective” made up of 19 members. They were formed in Toronto in 1999. Most of its members, except for its founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, currently play in other groups or pursue solo careers; kind of reminiscent of a musical phenomenon like THE TRAVELING MULBERRYS, where the ensemble sound is made up of super stars who enjoy playing and singing together. The group’s “sound”, a wonderful mix and conglomerate of its member’s talents is usually called “baroque pop”; which is characterized by a very large number of sounds, grand orchestrations that feature guitars, horns, woodwinds, and violins—unusual musical song structures; all capped by an experimental, almost sometimes chaotic production style from David Newfeld.

 

Sigourney Weaver was astonishingly good, just excellent, as Linda. She had studied Autism, and somehow found a way to deglamorize herself, and be emerged completely in the tic-ridden, quirky yet likeable Linda. She inhabited the character completely, and when she was on the screen, her focus was so intense, and her presence so realistic, that it was hard to take your eyes off her. Even her pregnancy with her daughter seemed consistent with her childlike need to experiment and play. She injured her knee during the shooting of SNOW CAKE (2006), and was forced to stop exercising for a year; probably a trampoline accident. In preparation for her role as Linda, Weaver spent time with a highly functional autistic woman from England, named Ros Blackburn. In reality, Ros cannot read or write and cannot live independently, but many of Ros’s mannerisms showed up in the portrayal of Linda. Ros also loves “sparklies”, and jumping on a trampoline.

Sigourney, who is a statuesque 5’11” tall, has appeared in 51 films since 1977. Her film debut was a six second cameo in Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL (1977). [Sounds a bit like my acting career; blink and you missed me.] Her career took off after she played Ellen Riply in ALIEN (1979). Some of her best roles were in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982, GHOSTBUSTERS (1984), ALIENS (1986) [Her salary for ALIEN: Resurrection (1997) was more than the entire budget cost of the original ALIEN], HALF MOON STREET (1986), with Michael Caine, featuring a very daring nude scene by her, GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988), WORKING GIRL (1988), with Harrison Ford, DAVE (1993), with Kevin Kline, Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), with Kevin Kline, A MAP OF THE WORLD (1999), GALAXY QUEST (1999), with Alan Rickman, THE VILLAGE (2004), [It is said that she suffered nightmares for two weeks after reading the script for THE VILLAGE.], SNOW CAKE (2006), and VANTAGE POINT (2008).

Susan Alexandra Weaver changed her name to “Sigourney” after reading THE GREAT GATSBY. For many years I thought she was related to character actor, Fritz Weaver, but it turns out her father was Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who was NBC President (1953-55), who pioneered the desk-and-couch format for talk shows, and it was he that created NBC’s TODAY (1952), and TONIGHT (1953). Her mother is actress Elizabeth Inglis. Her uncle is actor Doodles Weaver. Her performance as Ripley in ALIEN (1986), is ranked at #58 on PREMIERE MAGAZINE’s Top 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. She is one of the few actresses to have been nominated for an Oscar for a performance in a horror film; others include Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Janet Leigh, and Jodie Foster. She received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999, right there at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard. It is said that she is afraid of using elevators. She speaks fluent French and German. She attended the Yale Drama School. In 1988 she was nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Actress in GORILLAS IN THE MIST, and best supporting actress for WORKING GIRL; one of only 11 actors to have ever achieved that honor—the others being Fay Bainter, Teresa Wright, Barry Fitzgerald, Jessica Lange, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Holly Hunter, Julianne Moore, Jamie Foxx, and Cate Blanchett.

Sigourney Weaver said, “Some of the most intense affairs are between actors and their characters. There is a fire in the human heart, and we jump into it with the same obsession as we have with our lovers.”

 

She also said, “I have always admired Margaret Rutherford. Like her I would like to play Miss Marple when I’m eighty.”

 

Philip French of THE OBSERVER wrote, “The film is dull, unrevealing, yet well acted, and it gives Weaver one of those roles as a handicapped person with special gifts and insights that begs for and frequently receives Oscar nominations.”

 

Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “Weaver was assigned the role of playing an autistic woman, and she deserves special kudos for gracefully sidestepping the landmines inherent in a role fraught with the opportunity for ham-fisted tic-filled emoting.”

 

Stella Papamichael of BBC.COM wrote, “Ever since Dustin Hoffman twitched his way to an Oscar for RAIN MAN (1988), autism has been the subject of many a soggy melodrama. Thankfully, director Marc Evans shows a light touch with SNOW CAKE, and Sigourney Weaver delivers an infectious performance as Linda, full of childlike abandon.”

 

Stephanie Zacharek of SALON.COM wrote, “Sigourney Weaver, an actor with extraordinary wit and smarts, plays Linda, a woman with autism. She shows little emotion and lacks compassion for others. Childlike at times, when she gets excited or agitated, her hands curl up like little claws. Is this a believable and accurate portrayal of what a high-functioning autistic person would be like? Maybe. Did the role demand tons of preparation and concentration on Weaver’s part? There is no doubt. And yet the performances feel like a stunt, not a true marvel—a case of an actor playing a condition, not a character. You can see the actor’s gears grinding away in Weaver’s every expression, every movement.”

 

Andrew Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “I am rarely convinced by actors trying to play characters with such disabilities, but Sigourney Weaver nails it with a wonderfully gutsy characterization—and I mean gutsy as in the character is gutsy.”

 

Xan Brooks of THE GUARDIAN wrote, “Rickman was probably shell-shocked by the antics of his co-star. Weaver’s performance is so extravagantly awful, you cannot take your eyes off it. When she is happy, she gurgles, and waves her arms like a demented mime. When she is upset, she flaps them in a fury, frets over the housework and shrilly orders Rickman to take out the trash. “I don’t do garbage!” she roars, although in this case she has gallantly made an exception.”

 

Linda: Perfectamundo.

 

An interesting note here, both Rickman and Weaver were runners-up at the SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, as Best Actor and Best Actress.

 

After reading the script for SNOW CAKE, it was Alan Rickman who suggested Sigourney Weaver to play Linda. He even telephoned her and told her to read the script, and consider the part.

 

Linda: Do people like you, Alex?

Alex: Not much, no.

Linda: I’m not surprised. It’s because those glasses don’t look right on your face—you have a long face and those glasses make you look shifty.

 

Alan Rickman of the dour smirk, quick wit, and carefully phrased speech, found a character in Alex that was flawed and still redeemable, middle-aged sexy, very capable of terrible anger, yet equally capable of growth, of an epiphany, who at the end of his journey in Wawa discovered some form of acceptance and patience. He is a very generous actor, and the scenes he had with Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss shined because he quietly listened and stayed so focused. He feels that Canada is like his “second home”. During the course of making SNOW CAKE, he chose not to research the subject of autism; allowing himself more realistic responses.

 

Rickman said in an interview, “Alex was a character I could live inside. It is very rare for me to be sent a script, read it and say I’ll do it. It is a film about relationships, so inevitably it’s going to be complex; otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? But it was also very camera-ready—more than any other screenplay I can remember. A change happens to Alex in the course of the film, and there is time in here to do it. It is a very patient script, and it says an awful lot about how we set our moral compasses.

 

Stephanie Zacharek of SALON.COM wrote, “Alan Rickman gives a fine performance, one that is heartfelt as well as characteristically elegant (not to mention “sexy”). It’s wonderful that Rickman—with that handsome, hawkish profile, that voice like the purr of a disdainful jungle cat—gets to play such a sensual character here. In the movies, sex is so often presented as just a young person’s game, while “older” actors are shuffled off to play parents and granddads.”

 

Alan Rickman has appeared in 49 films since 1978. The first few years of it he did mostly British television in things like SMILEY’S PEOPLE (1982). His breakthrough role in cinema came as Hans Gruber in DIE HARD (1988), helping to establish a “franchise” that star Bruce Willis is still mining. Playing another bastard in QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER (1990), he helped co-star Tom Selleck get his film career into gear. Another heavy role as the Sheriff of Nottingham in ROBIN HOOD: Prince of Thieves (1991), elevated that film above Kevin Costner’s wooden Robin. He also was quite good in BOB ROBERTS (1992), MESMER (1994), SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995), with Emma Thompson, RASPUTIN (1996), MICHAEL COLLINS (1996), with Liam Neeson, GALAXY QUEST (1999), doing his Mr. Spock send-up, with Sigourney Weaver, DOGMA (1999), with Matt Damon. Then he found perfect sourness at Severus Snape in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE (2001), going on to play Snape in (4) sequels so far. He was also wonderful in LOVE ACTUALLY (2003), THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (2005), and SWEENEY TODD (2007), with Johnny Depp. Rickman is just putting the finishing touches on HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE (2008).

 

As a young man he attended the Royal Academy of Art, wanting to be a graphic artist. At age 26, he won a scholarship to RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), where he spent 3 years. Although a successful film actor, he has passed up several film offers to return to theater. He considers acting on the stage “magical” and his “first love”. He received rave reviews for his part in the revived Noel Coward play, PRIVATE LIVES, and was nominated for a Tony Award when it played on Broadway, and when it played in London, he was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award. He was also nominated for a Tony Award for the 1987 Broadway production of LES LIASONS DANGEREUSES. Ironically, he was only given the role of Snape in the HARRY POTTER series after actor Tim Roth backed out—but I read where he was author J.K.Rowling’s personal favorite choice to play Snape. He was the original casting choice for the lead in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994). When Rickman declined the offer, casting director Richard Curtis reluctantly cast Hugh Grant. For his death plunge in DIE HARD, he actually had to drop 20’ onto an airbag. Director John McTiernan had to jump first to convince Rickman to do it.

 

Carina Chocana of THE LA TIMES wrote, “ Alex’s story, though it is eventually revealed in teased-out driblets, remains more or less shrouded in obscurity—but Rickman’s performance is nuanced and intriguing enough to make his character engaging and compelling.”

 

Xan Brooks of THE GUARDIAN wrote, “Despite mooching around town like the saddest camel on earth, Rickman improbably attracts the attentions of every woman he meets. A middle-aged busybody accosts him in the street to explain that she is a divorcee. The beautiful next door neighbor (Carrie-Anne Moss) promptly drags him into bed. Even the cute veterinarian’s assistant appears all set to fellate him by the rabbit hutch at a moment’s notice.”

 

Carina Chocano of THE LA TIMES wrote, “With his velvety baritone and his sour puss (you half expect him to leave a trail of lemon husks, sucked dry, in his wake), Alan Rickman is the ideal actor to play a very particular kind of brooder—fierce but harmless, in pain but blessed with a high threshold for it.”

 

Rickman said, “I love America because whenever I go home—there’s something about England and coming from England, but as soon as you walk down the steps of the plane you shrink—and you have to start saying “sorry” and being polite and curtsying and things like that. America just lets me be the klutz I am. So I do feel more myself in America. I can regress there, and they have roller coaster parks.”

 

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “Performances in this film feel like performances. Rickman and Weaver have so carefully thought through their roles in such minute physical details that nothing feels spontaneous. By contrast, Maggie is warm and natural, but her urban character is so underwritten and alarmingly out of place in this small town that all Maggie can do is act as a catalyst for other people’s healing.”

 

Stella Papamichael of BBC.COM wrote, “The real power of the film comes in slight shifts in the relationship between Alex and Linda as they try to fit around each other—like icebergs, they collide in slow-motion and their innermost fears show through in the cracks. Ultimately it is a deeply moving, life-affirming tale; the many scathing one-liners are just icing on the cake.”

 

Alex: (to Maggie) Being with you. Being with Linda. Being with myself again. Hey, and I’m having sex and these muffins are great—that sort of thing.

 

Carrie-Anne Moss presented us with a Maggie who was outspoken, an outsider in a small town, sexually emancipated, fiercely independent, well read, well versed, needy yet giving, warm and real, yet still vulnerable, and of course incredibly sensual. She took what was essentially a “nothing role”, embraced it and breathed life into it.

 

Maggie: I like you, I really like you, and I hate having sex on a full stomach—so can we just skip the main course and move next door?

Moss was born in British Columbia. At 20 she moved to Europe and became a fashion model. While in Spain, she fell into acting in a soap opera. This brought her to Hollywood. She has appeared in 40 films since 1989. Ironically she was in several episodes of a television series called THE MATRIX, and it was not science fiction. She did a BAYWATCH in 1994. Her breakthrough role was in, of course, THE MATRIX (1999). In 2000, she had a busy year, appearing in CHOCOLAT, RED PLANET, and MEMENTO. Both MATRIX RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS were released in 2003. I really liked her in SUSPECT ZERO (2004), with Ben Kingsley, and in THE CHUMSCRUBBER (2005), and DISTURBIA (2007).

Interestingly, she has appeared with all three actors who starred in THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994)—Hugo Weaving in THE MATRIX (1999), Guy Pearce in MEMENTO (2000), and Terence Stamp in RED PLANET (2000). Moss is married to an actor, Steven Roy. They have been married since 1999, when her career took off. They have two sons. She was named after a hit tune “Carrie-Anne”, done by the Hollies in 1967. Her best friend is actress Maria Bello, and she is still good friends with Jada Pinkett-Smith.

 

Andrew Urban wrote further, “As Maggie, the sensuous neighbor who has “gentleman callers” these days, and a broken marriage behind her, Carrie-Anne Moss is superbly multi-dimensional; she is at once warm, decent and caring, and totally selfish when it comes to men and relationships.”

 

Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “If anyone ever had any doubt that great actors can elevate a movie, they need look no further than SNOW CAKE for the proof that they can. What might have been a mediocre disease-of-the-week melodrama is utterly transformed, thanks to stars Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Carrie-Anne Moss, and a fine supporting cast. As Linda and Alex sit down to play a game of “comic book scrabble”, the film threatens to collapse under a weight of treacle. That it never happens has everything to do with Weaver finding some reality in the collection of extreme traits that is Linda, and with the always magnificent Rickman who manages to make Alex’s isolation and loneliness palpable and moving.”

 

Alex: I know how you must be feeling. I had a son….

Linda: You don’t know how I’m feeling because you are not me.

 

Emily Hampshire gave us a Vivienne that was manic and charming, loquacious without being chatty, eccentric yet attractive, willing to hitchhike across Ontario in order to meet “interesting and lonely people” that she might use later for her writing; because, “They had the best stories to tell.” Raised by her grandparents, she had only lived with Linda, her autistic mother for a couple years, but she was so accepting, and so open to life in all its forms, that they were forging a very workable relationship. She makes such a strong impression in her few scenes that her presence is felt for the whole rest of the film. When Linda visualizes her while dancing at the wake, her exuberance and lovely zaniness makes us miss her even more, and be more touched by the marvelous scene at Vivienne’s funeral when her grandfather read her manuscript for a children’s book.

Hampshire is primarily a Canadian actress, and most of her 47 film appearances since 1996 have been on Canadian television. She was in the mini-series THE LAST DON (1997), and people took notice when she did BOY MEETS GIRL (1998), with Sean Astin. She was in THE HAPPY FACE MURDERS (1999), with Ann-Margret, and played Rosa in the mini-series EARTHSEA (2004). She has starred in three Canadian TV series, THIS SPACE FOR RENT, CARL SQUARED, and NORTHERN TOWN. Presently, 2006-2007, she has done the voice for Misery on the animated series, RUBY GLOOM.

Andrew Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Wonderful too, albeit all too briefly, is Emily Hampshire as the daughter tragically killed. In her brief amount of screen time, she creates a remarkably vibrant and complex, interesting young woman.”

Alex: My brother is handsome, and fit, and a very successful stock broker.

Vivienne: Behind every successful man there is a truly astonishing woman.

Alex: He’s gay.

Vivienne: My point exactly.

 

Louise Keller of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Everyone and everything is surprising in this arresting film whose heart is as warm as its setting is cold. The circumstances may be tragic, but the outcome is miraculous as we discover that the pathway to salvation is as unexpected as the weather. Continuously uplifting while being surprising, it is a wonderful film in which world-weary melancholy dances with innocent bliss. Director Marc Evans’s sensitive direction makes the impossible seem to be the norm as we become enveloped in the film’s engrossing reality. It is “dazlious”.

 

Ella Taylor of THE VILLAGE VOICE wrote, “Marc Evans Indie drama does sidle up to the brink of mawkishness, but it pulls back so nicely into Weaver’s rich, hard-headed evocation of Linda’s limitations that one forgives the eye-popping speed with which Alex, grieving for two people he has never known, re-enters the human race and falls hard for Carrie-Anne Moss.”

 

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “SNOW CAKE tries to wring sweet intimate drama and sweet epiphanies from a collection of oddball characters, peculiar circumstances and doubtful coincidences in a middle-of-nowhere Canadian town. In this film, written by Angela Pell and directed by Marc Evans, the key dramatic moments feel as forced as they are predictable.

This low key Canadian/British production, the opening night selection for the Berlin International Film Festival, has a chance at art house exposure with its stellar cast, but theatrical opportunities will be limited.”

 

Not all the critics like the idea of a super star taking on the role of a disabled person, or to be cast against type. This is an absurd notion, harkening back to the Studio system of the 30’s and 40’s, where character actors never could play lead roles, and the beautiful people could never tackle difficult or unattractive roles. That being the case we never would have seen John Hurt as THE ELEPHANT MAN, Hilary Swank in BOYS DON’T CRY (1999), Linda Hunt in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982), Charlize Theron as Aileen in MONSTER (2003), Meryl Streep as a Rabbi in ANGELS IN AMERICA, or Cate Blanchett as a Bob Dylan clone in I’M NOT THERE (2007)—and the list goes on infinitum. Give me a damned break Stephanie Zacharek of SALON.COM who wrote, “Somewhere, somehow, someone came up with the idea that it is always good for actors to “stretch”, to tackle roles that no one would ever imagine them playing. Catherine Deneuve as Golda Mier? [Hey, Ingrid Bergman did a fine job at one point] George Clooney as the Elephant Man! Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf! [She was fantastic in that part in THE HOURS (2002)] I am not talking about the practice of deglamourizing stars by sticking them in serious, ponderous roles. I am talking about performances in which an actor takes the very things we love most about him or her—expressiveness, timing, sharpness, even just wily charm—and wrests them into awkward pretzel shapes just to prove that it can be done. We are supposed to walk away marveling at the brave spectacle we’ve just seen, when too often what we have really witnessed is a display of craft at the expense of characterization. Maybe challenging our expectations is easier than actually filling them.

Sigourney Weaver will not only rebound from SNOW CAKE; she will probably win an award to two. At the screening I attended, I heard various allegedly serious-minded types humming about how amazing they thought she was. Her performance is, at the least, a well-executed acting exercise, and Rickman, with his dry powers of observation, serves as a kind of protective foil for the extremely vulnerable character Weaver is playing. Still as I watched Rickman’s Alex express incredulous curiosity as Linda packs snow into her gob, I couldn’t help wondering what would Snape make of all this?”

 

Andrew Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “But there’s so much more to this film than could be written here; each scene in invested with emotional payloads, striking observations and a wry humor that makes it possible to label the film as upbeat, despite its contents.”

 

The British critics could be harsh. Xan Brooks of THE GUARDIAN wrote, “Director Marc Evans offers a mesmerizing bonfire of the vanities, crowned by the ludicrous pairing of Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver as a depressed murderer and live-wire autistic woman who likes bouncing on trampolines. Perhaps SNOW CAKE will blossom into a lucrative comedy franchise, with a bevy of sequels involving more odd-couple escapades, more romantic misadventures, and more trampolines.”

 

SNOW CAKE like other Canadian winter dramas, reminiscent of Atom Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), and Sarah Polley’s AWAY FROM HER (2006), created a movie malleable microcosm of humanity and human nature—that touches us as it teaches, that provided a lively peek into the lives and hearts of several unique and “special” characters. It is a quiet film that nevertheless grips our shoulders firmly, a stern but patient tutor who had an interesting lesson to share.

 

Glenn A. Buttkus 2008

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About Glenn Buttkus

Former actor and Special Ed teacher for the blind, newly retired, spending my days struggling as poet, photographer, novelist, husband, and grandfather.
This entry was posted in 2008, Discussion of Official TFC Selected Films, General Film Related Discussion, Glenn Buttkus and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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