Monday, January 30, 2012

The Queue Continuum: The High Cost of Living

With the exception of Scrubs* and certain aspects of Garden State**, Zach Braff's resume has been fairly lackluster. Some of this is the result of his awkward presence and its inevitable exclusionary nature in regards to his viability as a leading man in standard Hollywood fare. The other factor sitting front and center is that Zach Braff's film choices haven't been particularly good since Garden State. A quick live-action role run-down consists of The Ex and The Last Kiss. That's it. And that's bad. Both of those films are abysmal.

*If we're being honest here, Scrubs took a precipitous nose-dive once Turk and Carla had a kid. 
**There were aspects of Garden State that really worked. Much of the dialogue (especially the dialogue for Natalie Portman's character, Sam) does not work--particularly that shit about The Shins changing your life; it made it really hard to like The Shins, a band I once liked a lot, because that line and the band became inseparable. Garden State did, however, look great, and Braff did a fine (read that modifier however you would like) job capturing the malaise of "mood-stabilizing" numbness from medication to treat depression. 

Coming into The High Cost of Living, an expectation of anything less than trepidation would likely be foolish. With that mindset going in, Deborah Chow's The High Cost of Living isn't as bad as you would expect. Braff plays Henry Welles, a fuck-up drug-dealing American living illegally in Montreal. While drunk and high driving the wrong way down a one-way street, Henry hits a pregnant woman who is waiting in the street for a cab to take her to the hospital. With no witnesses, he takes off, largely because of his illegal residency status and the drugs he had in his possession. Wrought with guilt, he tracks her down, starting by following her, then befriending her, discovering that the accident ended the pregnancy.

What follows is a story which on the surface is sweet but is acrid and perverse beneath. The result is a mixed bag. The High Cost of Living has its nice moments, particularly the simpler ones between Henry and Nathalie (played capably by Isabelle Blais) in his apartment, and it definitely has the pure intentions of a film trying to give us a morality tale that lives in the gray area of the real world, but its shortcomings certainly temper any positive response the viewer can have coming out of it. For starters, there is something about Braff's performances in general that render the more dramatic moments strained, specifically in such scenes where the drama is driven by dialogue, as he starts speaking in a distracting stilted manner. Then there is his default method of acting which too often finds him falling back on his awkward aping that might work in something a bit broader but not in an indie melodrama. On the narrative side of the discussion, the film tilts the scale a bit on the dull side with its plot being fairly simple and its character-driven nature ultimately falling a bit short on account of its characters not being compelling enough on their own merits to make the audience want to go along on their journey.

While this is better than the reprehensibly bad The Ex or Braff's tiresome and soulless outing The Last Kiss, I don't know that this can be considered good, even if the ending is much more palatable than one would expect.

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