Snow Cake

4 stars


8th September 2006

Never let it be said I don't have a sensitive side: listing all of the films I've cried at would put a rather heavy strain on the internet's resources and in all probability exceed my bandwidth limitation for the month. The point is, I like my tender moments as much as I like my asteroid movies and although I draw the line at soppy Kate Hudson movies where she finds love where - brace yourself - she least expects it, I am willing to stop chewing on steak, shotgunning beers and discussing the Christmas tree formation for a few minutes to tell you why you should go and see Snow Cake. It's soppy, emotional and slow-paced, but it's a damn good little movie that deserves your attention, if only because sometimes it's easy to get lost in discussion over the flame decal of your favourite robot truck and forget there are fine films out there going unattended.

We first meet uptight Brit Alex (Rickman) in a diner, where he picks up vivacious young hitchhiker Vivienne (Emily Hampshire), who sits herself down next to him, intent on making a friend and cadging a lift. Alex begrudgingly offers her a place in his passenger seat, but just when the two look like they might be getting on, a truck ploughs into the car, killing Vivienne and leaving Alex to pick up the pieces. Travelling to the snowy Canadian town of Wawa to confront the girl's mother Linda (Weaver), Alex discovers she is a high functioning autistic with a dislike of social gatherings and a penchant for shiny things. Despite their differences, the two form an unlikely bond; Linda, unable to fend for herself after the loss of her daughter, needs the company of Alex, who, racked with guilt, finds it difficult to emote to a woman he hardly knows. Meanwhile, Alex strikes up a relationship with Linda's sassy (read: whorish) neighbour Maggie played by Carrie-Anne Moss, made difficult by his temporary stay in Wawa and her desire to play the field.

"I know all about autism, I've seen that movie," says one of the townsfolk of Linda's condition. Think autism, think Rain Man: it's simply an unavoidable connection. However, the sensitive-yet-sharp script from Angela Pell (whose own son suffers from autism) is refreshingly free of Hoffman-esque ticks and lumpen Gump-isms, giving Linda an authenticity that lends a great deal of realism to the film. She might fly into a hissy fit the moment someone sets foot in her kitchen, but that doesn't mean she's not sharp as a nail, especially in her scathing put downs of Rickman's house guest. The two leads share a curious chemistry; Rickman wisely sticks with his trademark sardonic delivery, while Weaver plays her role with a childlike innocence that slowly thaws his British reserve. Watching the most unlikely of couples argue over the spelling of words during a game of comic-book Scrabble (in which only outrageous exclamations like 'kablammo' are allowed) is just one of many delightful scenes in which the pair play off each other perfectly. Watching Linda bounce gleefully up and down on a trampoline will melt even the frostiest of hearts.

It's easy to forget that Rickman is capable of fleshing out layered characters with such ease, especially after his sharp tongue has been blunted of late with the clumsy dialogue of Potter and the wretched words of Richard Curtis. Weaver, typically, is fantastic, and even though Oscar now prefers gays to mentals, she'll be in with a nod come awards season. In a film chock-full of affecting performances, the only thing that doesn't convince is the relationship between Rickman and Moss, the 22-year age gap upping the yuck factor much higher than necessary; it's hard not to wince after lines like: "I really like you, and I hate having sex on a full stomach, so can we just skip the main course?" Besides, no one wants to think of Professor Snape getting his wand away, especially not with Trinity. The relationship between Linda and Alex is far more interesting (non-sexual, you understand), with him playing a makeshift mother, father, daughter and friend to his new host.

A touching and acutely observed character study, it's not exactly what you'd expect from the director of My Little Eye, but Evans handles even the stodgy scenes with the utmost respect, point blank refusing to let stereotypes and cliches creep under the door. Yes, it's at times a little too keen to yank on your heartstrings like an over-eager bell-ringer, but that's purely only because you'll invest in the characters from very early on. So, Snow Cake then; it'll struggle to make itself heard above the din of Jason Statham driving motorbikes off buildings and Nicolas Cage punching out women, but give it a chance and you'll find a tender little picture with heart to spare. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read Shoot magazine while punching a pregnant bear in the stomach. And no, I'm not crying. I was yawning.

More:  Drama
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