“He Had The Overwhelming Urge To Embrace Randomness.”

Road trip movies are a staple of American cinema. As such, this particular film sub-genre has a number of its own sub-genres, such as the wacky comedy road trip (National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Hangover), the girls rule road trip (Thelma and Louise), and the “drugs are fun, kids” road trip (Easy Rider, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

But, of course, the road trip movie is not only an American phenomenon. Canada, too, apparently has quite the number of pretty sights and biggest balls of twine to marvel over, and these are all proudly put on display in their cancer road trip movie, One Week.


As far as subgenres go, the I’m-dying-and-I-need-to-find-the-meaning-of-life road trip movie is usually right up there for me with inspirational sports films and Katherine Heigl romantic comedies. Meaning, Yeah, that film sure sounds swell and all, but I think I’ll pass so I can go jump off a bridge instead, thanks.

But One Week had Joshua Jackson in it, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Summary:

Ben (Joshua Jackson) is diagnosed with cancer, stage four, and since that’s the kind of news that’s hard to take in (and since he’s already pretty unhappy with his life anyway) he decides to take a road trip on his new motorcycle across Canada.

Notes:

1. For a movie about cancer and finding yourself and all that, One Week is a surprisingly funny film, and the humor is almost entirely due to the voiceover narration. I’ve bitched a lot about voiceovers in past reviews, but when they’re executed well, it’s a joy to watch, and I thoroughly enjoyed Campbell Scott’s commentary. In a way, he almost becomes his own character. He’s not just some guy tossing out inspirational quotes or needlessly telling the audience things that they can actually see on the screen. His narration adds layers to what you’re already watching. Sometimes, it even moves the plot along. The whole thing is exceptionally refreshing.

2. So, despite my initial misgivings, I actually ended up liking One Week a lot. Really, I think a lot of people would. Still, there are probably two groups of people who will get the most out of it, and those groups are one, Canadians, and two, struggling writers.

First, Canadians:

Almost every review I read about this movie made a point to say how aggressively Canadian this film is, and that’s true in a sense, but only in the same way that American road trip movies celebrate America and all its peculiarities. I mean, the movie is clearly proud to be a Canadian one, but it’s not so alien that I can’t appreciate or understand what’s happening. Of course, Canadians will get more of the references, which is cool for them (personally, I love watching movies that take place in Northern California) but non-Canucks shouldn’t have any trouble relating to the film at all.

In fact, the only thing that really took me by surprise was a casual reference to Ben unrolling the rim of a coffee cup to see if he’d won something. Is this a common thing? Do all coffee companies in Canada do this? Do they ever put lame internet codes instead of a standard ‘You Won This or That’ message, you know like soda companies do on the inside of their bottle caps? I’m completely fascinated.

As for struggling writers:

Again, I’m sure that non-writers will have no trouble relating to a protagonist who has settled for a career that he doesn’t want. Still, as a writer with a seemingly useless BA in English, I feel a little more connected to Ben than, say, other, non-disillusioned English majors might, what with the identical rejection letters from publishing markets, famous quotations studied in school, thinly veiled autobiographical writing, etc, etc. There’s a lot for struggling writers to identify with.

3. As with any road trip movie, there are a lot of endearingly odd side characters who Ben encounters as he travels. This can be tricky to pull off because these people do sometimes come off as a touch quirky for quirky’s sake—you know, how pretty much everyone Ben talks to has to say something SIGNIFICANT—but, overall, it works, I think, because each encounter is so brief. Also, since Ben is so clearly looking for some kind of Sign anyway, it makes sense that he’d be inclined to attach extra weight and importance to any odd encounter or any stranger’s words. That’s what road trips are all about, right?

4. All the acting is pretty good. I don’t know that there’s anything screaming ‘Oscar nominee,’ but I think Joshua Jackson gives an understated performance that works really well with the narration. It’s definitely a lot less snarky than other roles I’ve seen him in.


5. One of the things I like most about One Week is how well everything fits together, and how much detail goes into Ben’s characterization. The narrator gives you a couple of very brief glimpses into Ben’s past, and you can watch how those moments in his life (and they’re small moments, too, not the kind of thing that flashbacks usually bother to show) have really shaped his whole perception of himself and the world around him. I also like that Ben’s not ridiculously tragic. He may very well be dying, and he’s not happy with the life he has, but he isn’t also an orphan with a murdered younger sister and, I don’t know, a dead puppy or something. Ben strikes me as a very real guy, and nothing he does, whether its a good idea or not, seems out of character for him.

6. Like any self-respecting indie film, One Week has a decent, indie soundtrack. New, favorite song of the moment: Wintersleep’s “Weighty Ghost.” (If you’re interested, the music video is here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-iW0zL2LI0)

7. Finally, some quotes before I get into spoilers.

Narrator: “Ben taught the same books that he had been taught, that his father had been taught, that, in all likelihood, Shakespeare’s father had been taught.”

Narrator: “In a burst of power walking prowess, she just managed to catch the 5:45 train.”

Fran: “Though if I could get laid every now and again, I might feel a lot happier.” (Ben looks a bit alarmed, and Fran laughs in his face.) “No offense, but I like my men XXL. Besides, when I make my move, it usually involves a few wine coolers and a complete lack of subtlety.”

Narrator: “And so, inexplicably happy to be alive, Ben tried to recreate one of those movie moments where the hero dances uninhibitedly, finally able to throw off the shackles of convention through the transformative power of a pop song . . . Ben, however couldn’t pull off the feat. He felt like an idiot trying to be that guy. Moreover, he couldn’t dance.”

(This may be my very favorite thing that I’ve ever heard.)

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. The biggest problem I had with it—and, admittedly, it’s enough of a problem to knock it down from an A to possibly even a B+—happens at the end and is thus completely spoilerific. But even though I really dislike this one thing that happens, I think One Week‘s completely worth watching. The humor really caught me by surprise, and I think its one of the better “I’m-dying-so-I-need-to-find-the-meaning-of-life movies” I’ve seen.

But for those of you who need to know exactly what I didn’t like about the film, continue on . . .

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

Before I get to The Problem, here’s what happens with the rest of the story: Ben starts wondering if he really loves Samantha (his fiancee, kind of forgot to mention her before), or if he just cares about her. He sleeps with another girl on his journey. When he immediately confesses this to Samantha, she forgives him . . . surprising and refreshing, since I assumed this would be a huge, thirty-minute fight that I’d have to yawn repeatedly through . . . but the affair doesn’t really even matter because Ben realizes that, he in fact, doesn’t truly love Sam, and they break up.

This could have been a really annoying or badly written storyline, but they don’t go the easy way out and make Sam a shrew, and neither do they make Ben seem like a useless jackass who’s just using her all this time. He clearly cares about her, and the film makes a point to show all the things he loves about her, even though he doesn’t love her.

(Also, I adore the fact that amidst all this breakup drama, Sam worries that people will think she dumped Ben because he has cancer. Because she’s right. That’s probably what a lot of people would think. Well, maybe Ben and Sam can mail out cards or something.)

Now, to the Problem: the voiceover narration is revealed to be an older Ben Tyler, reading from his published novel, One Week. And . . . I hate this. I don’t mind that Ben makes it . . . I’ve seen my share of utterly depressing cancer movies; I don’t mind an uplifting one, now and again . . . but that he’s reading from this novel . . . UGH. It’s not just that it’s a cliche. It’s a problem with internal logic.

See, throughout the film, the narrator is clearly omniscient. Not only does he explain the motivations of several different characters, he shows what would happened to a couple of side characters because of Ben’s road trip. (One lady, Fran, meets her true love because of him; another nurse doesn’t get killed in a train accident.) These are things that Ben couldn’t possibly know, so there’s no way this novel could be a memoir (as is the case in Stand By Me. There’s no problem with internal logic there. This is totally different.)

So, if Older Ben isn’t reading his memoir, then he’s reading from his fiction novel, probably another thinly veiled autobiography that found a publishing home this time around. But this interpretation, while logically consistent, takes a lot away from the hour and a half you just invested in watching this guy ride around Canada. The audience can no longer can be sure how much of it actually ever happened, and if side characters like Fran ever really existed. And even if she did exist, did she really meet the love of her life like the narrator told us? Hell, for all we know, Fran got up the next day and got hit by a truck. After all, it’s not like Older Ben would know otherwise.

Now, of course the whole point of this ending is that Ben beat the odds and got the life he wanted when he learned to take chances and believe and all that nonsense, but as much as I like the message, I hate that the narrator is Older Ben. It’s a completely unnecessary tie-in. I didn’t need to know who the narrator was. Hell, I didn’t want to know who the narrator was. And I sure as hell didn’t want to know that this the whole story I’ve been watching for the past hour and a half is just Older Ben’s Utterly Skewed Version of his Younger Days where he apparently cast himself as unsung hero. Lamesauce, people. Serious lamesauce.

Despite my intense dislike for the end, though, I still really like this movie, and I’m glad I watched it. I would definitely recommend this film to others . . . but maybe to stop the movie five minutes before it ended. Because, seriously? Narrator Older Ben is a BIG problem for me.

Tentative Grade:

B+

Moral:

Release your inner child. Don’t settle for anything. Live.

(And, if you’re sickly, try to sneak in a kiss with the Stanley Cup. That seems to help.)

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15 Responses to “He Had The Overwhelming Urge To Embrace Randomness.”

  1. Mike Costa says:

    Thanks for this review! I’ve seen it 4 or 5 times and although I’m not dying of cancer (or canadien) I feel like its given me a new look on life. Also, I didn’t know that THAT’S who the natrarator was. And I agree about what you say about Karen. Yet still I love with this flick, the best. Alright, I’m off to find some grumps!

  2. random_canuck says:

    Great review. Great film. Funny thing is though i didn’t make the connection that the narrator is older Ben. I actually thought the film’s tone at the end suggests that Ben didn’t make it, or at least the audience is left wondering. Obviously he wrote the book but i dont think the guy reading it is supposed to be him. I too would dislike such an a cliche ending, but i didn’t see it that way.

    In addition i like the odd randomness of the narration on other characters lives, even though there would be no way of knowing this. Whats wrong with a bit of fiction in an autobiographical book when its so obviously fiction. Thats just good old fashioned story telling.

    Also agreed that the narrator

    • Interesting. Now I have to watch it again because I didn’t get that impression at all. I very much assumed that Ben was the author giving a reading.

      • rim_roller says:

        I guess its implied that it could be him, but its also vague enough to leave it to the audience to decide. There are so many great parts in this film that do just that, like the blackness after his crash, or after he sees the whale/grump. It leave you with just enough pause to start wondering what might happen, or what if….

        Oh and the rim rolling on the coffee cup is a promotion frequently offered by Tim Hortons. They don’t normally give life advice, but you can win the occasional donut…

  3. Jenny says:

    Hey there. I just finished watching this movie, too, and found it quite intriguing. I was searching to see if there were any narrated quotes that I might have missed during the movie and stumbled upon your review. Well done review, might I add.

    The ending was curious to me. I went back and watched it a couple of times. I didn’t get the impression the first time that it was Ben at all. I actually thought it might be his father reading his son’s book. But this man is wearing glasses and appears a bit different. Also… with the narrator just finishing the book, and then the movie cutting to a scene with the books being set up nicely in a book store, I had the impression that it was a new release for a book… like one that had just came out… and I thought that maybe Ben had died, but he completed his book and now someone was reading it to pay honor to his life and his work that he left to the world.

    Anyway, I guess I would have to agree with some of the other people who thought that it seemed to be intentionally vague so the viewer could make their own inferences. I noticed that you gave this movie a “Tentative Grade” of B+ …. so maybe after reviewing some of the comments here, your initial opinion might be swayed to see the ending from a different view 🙂

    Oh – thanks for also mentioning the Stanley Cup part. I almost forgot that and it was a nice moment of levity in the movie!

    • I think I’d have to watch it again and see how I feel about it. Maybe I’ll see the ending the way you guys have, and that will change my grade for me. (I tend to make almost everything a tentative grade because first impressions are sometimes right on the money and sometimes way off.) That would certainly be nice because I enjoyed this movie a lot 🙂

  4. Jenny says:

    Oh – I forgot to add… I am Canadian (born in Ontario, grew up in Alberta, but my home is in BC) and I really enjoyed seeing the Canadian landscape, some of the “Biggest” pictures (some of which I know exactly where they are and/or have even seen myself), and glimpses of roads, signs, and cities that I have seen myself. That must be what it’s like for Americans when they see a road movie and they can relate to the location.

    As for the coffee cup messages… I’ve never been a coffee drinker (I can’t get over the taste of the stuff), but it’s clearly from a Tim Horton’s cup during one of their famous “Roll up the rim to win” events. I’ve copied links to a couple commercials that highlight what this is all about (they aren’t perfect clips, but they’re the best I can find and are decent to give you a good idea of what this coffee rolling thing is all about 🙂

    One thing I should point out is that I don’t think there are ever any Chinese cookie-like messages under those rims. Either “Sorry, try again” or “You’ve won ___”. But then again, I’m not a coffee drinker, so I could be wrong!

    • Bummer. I’m not a coffee drinker either, but if I was, I would totally put fortune cookie messages on coffee cups. Thanks for the video, though — I don’t think we have Tim Horton’s in America. Or if we do, we don’t have it in my part of Northern California.

      Born and raised in California — I was going to say CA and then realized that’s probably confusing, given the context — I really like when movies are shot here, well, in Northern California (which is pretty different from Southern California and Hollywood). It’s neat to recognize landmarks and go, “I’ve been there!” On the other hand, sometimes it’s hilarious when they’re wrong too. I was watching a TV show a few weeks ago where a crime was supposedly committed in this city, Clearlake — problem is, the writers have CLEARLY never been there because they show this, like, posh, four star hotel, and I’m like, “You know, I grew up near Clearlake. There is nothing that nice in that entire area. I mean, not at all.”

  5. Aris says:

    Hey there! I loved the movie too and I am Greek… no ties to Canada or cancer but this movie made me cry like a baby as I too, am leading a rather unsatisfying life. I wish I had the guts to do what Ben did and get up one morning and just leave it all behind…I am sure that One Week maybe is all we need to clear our heads, don’t you? Because, seriously noone gets how much time we waste worrying about anything they throw to us that we dont concentrate on our own original and true thoughts. Like Ben for example… JUST LET THE KID PICK HIS NOSE AND DAYDREAM FOR GOODNESS SAKES! 😛
    Anyway as for the ending I dont think that that was older Ben… because the narrator’s expression is rather sad when he reads the last line. not to mention the overall feeling of the ending and lastly the last line of Tennyson’s poem on the blackboard. I think that the narrator was just a man recording this for an audiobook as ONE WEEK obviously had become a best seller…

    • Perhaps. I’ve read that interpretation a few times now, so I think I’ll have to watch One Week again and see if the ending still strikes me the same way or not. And yes, I don’t think we all get to pick our noses and daydream nearly enough. 🙂

  6. I totally didn’t think Campbell Scott is supposed to be “Older” Ben. He’s credited as the Narrator. Not “Older” Ben. However he is still reading Ben Tyler’s book so the point about the changes made to other people’s lives on account of them meeting Ben during his travels could still be valid. Tyler would have no way of knowing those things…UNLESS…he stayed in touch with his newly made friends. Why wouldn’t he (apart from the fact that he believes he’s going to die). He could have easily exchanged addresses with these people he met. Or he could have contacted them later and sent them a copy of his newly published book. As far as beating the fateful 6:10 train…he could have easily found that out from the nurse during his treatment. Easily filled holes. Really not holes at all.
    There…now you can totally go back to enjoying the film from beginning to end and give it the “A” it deserves. : )

    • It’s been a while since I’ve seen this, but I know enough people have agreed with you on Campbell Scott’s role that I’d have to rewatch the whole movie, especially to address your ideas on the plot holes, which at this point still strike me as plot holes, and your explanations kind of seem like they’re reaching. But I might feel differently on a second viewing. I just have no interest in watching it again anytime soon.

      I DID rewatch the last scene again on youtube, though, and I feel like my interpretation of Campbell Scott as Older Ben is still valid. Sure, I guess he could just be doing an audio book or something, but . . . I don’t know, that just doesn’t feel right to me. At best, it seems like a confusing and utterly unnecessary shot which I still wish they had cut from the finished product.

  7. Julia says:

    Hey I’m a bit late on the draw on this one. I own this movie, and I’ve seen it several times, it is one of my favourites and at the end it never occurred to me to jump to a conclusion as to whether Ben Tyler was still alive or dead. I did assume that the man at the end was just a narrator that was recording an audio book, but in all ambiguity I think the fact that they left Ben’s fate unknown was meant to be part of a greater plot device. I’m not entirely sure how to explain what I mean but if I ever do figure it out, I’ll be sure to express it more throughly.
    In regards to your coffee cup thing, It’s simply a contest that I feel as if (as silly as it sounds) is part of the Canadian identity. It’s something that is distinctly ours, due to the utter recognizably iconography of the Tim Hortons brand of coffee. While the Chinese fortune thing isn’t real, I can’t help but think that due to the weight of Ben’s grief at his recent discovery, or perhaps the cancer itself was nothing but a hallucination.
    As a Canadian there was one part in this movie that took me by a huge surprise in a very strange and emotional way and that’s when the German(?) couple came up to Ben in Tofino, requested that he take their picture and then said simply “You live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.” The impact that this statement had on me was huge, because despite me growing up next to the rocky mountains, and frequently having the opportunity to visit both the east and west coasts, it’s something that I never really thought of, or appreciated. A lot of Canadians I knew growing up were just waiting to get out, to be able to move to England or New York or California or Australia or anywhere really, and I was one of them. It never really dawned on me until very recently that I do actually live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with one of the most unique identities and histories, and I’ve kind of hit this point where, even though I would love to travel to other places, I don’t feel that incessant need to run away anymore. More and more as current global events are taking shape I’m beginning to feel safer up here, and more comfortable, as if Canada is truly my home.

  8. Joy Thompson says:

    I agree with everyone upthread, Campbell Scott is simply the narrator and credited as such in the film, on imdb and otherwise, there is nothing at all to suggest that he is older Ben Tyler, in fact I have the inclination that poor Ben didn’t make it judging by the display of his books yet no sign of him. Regardless as a Canadian that was indeed “a love letter to Canada” in the most beautiful if not sad way. The song that Emm Gryner sang I’ve known a snippet of it since I was a child and never really known what it was called, it was a happy reminder. Likewise with the Stanley Cup, first thought “No, dude, don’t touch it” and the cameo by Gord Downie!! Good lord, just awesome!

  9. amber says:

    I didn’t get the impression at all that the narrator was older Ben. I just assumed that he was touched and moved by the story he just narrated and was taking a moment to give it honor at the end. And then the camera showing Ben’s book in the bookstore let us know that Ben had finally got his book published before he assumingly died. But who knows, I could be totally wrong! But the scenery sure makes me wanna go visit Canada.

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