Snow Cake

 (2006)

by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The storyline in Snow Cake revolves around a tragic auto accident. A taciturn old Englishman, on his way to Winnipeg through frozen northern Ontario, for mysterious reasons explained later as part of the story's hook, picks up a young female hitchhiker at a truck stop. Although she never stops gabbing, and he rarely starts, the grumpy gentleman finally starts to warm to her openness and na´vetÚ - just as they are run over by a massive truck near the town of Wawa, just north of Lake Superior. He walks away nearly unscathed, but she is killed instantly.

That's not really a spoiler. It happens shortly after the film begins.

The old man knows that his hitchhiker was taking some odd gifts to her mom, so he resolves to track down the mother and deliver the gifts himself, along with his condolences. The mother turns out to be a "high-functioning autistic," and the two of them form an unlikely bond which lasts until the girl's funeral. The other players in the drama are: a sexually voracious neighbor who seduces the older gentleman; an inept local cop who wants the horny neighbor's attentions for his own; the driver of the truck which killed the girl; and the parents of the autistic woman, who actually raised their granddaughter as well.

That's just about the entire movie. The old fellow spends a few days in Wawa and arranges the funeral. He bonds with some of the locals, thinks about staying, then decides to resume the trip to his original destination.

As you may have guessed, it's not an action film. 

There is a mystery in the subtext, in that the gentleman refuses to tell anyone about his life or why he is driving to Winnipeg, but that's not what makes or breaks the film. The appeal of this Canadian drama inheres within the characters and the actors who give them life. There is nothing to quibble about when it comes to the actors. Alan Rickman plays the older man with dignity, sadness, and only a touch of his normal cynicism. Sigourney Weaver plays the autistic woman. Carrie-Anne Moss plays the sexy neighbor. Weaver and Moss were nominated for Genies for their performances, as was the girl whose brief appearance as the daughter was quite quirky and charismatic. The film also received a nomination for cinematography. Of the four nominations, only Moss walked off with the hardware.

Snow Cake is a film which has caused a sharp divide between critics and moviegoers. In general, the critics dismissed it as a pseudo-Egoyan film without Atom's customary gravitas, and sharply criticized the unlikely trail of melodramatic baggage carried by the Rickman character. It turns out that he kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, murdered several children, and wants to give Iranians the atomic bomb so they can conquer Canada and eat all the cute little Newfy puppies. I fabricated that, of course, but it gives you the right general idea. As the character's secrets are revealed, the script piles tragedy upon tragedy into this guy's background, until he makes Job seem to have gotten a free skate. The Guardian was especially harsh in its criticism, awarding the film the lowest possible score, but few critics really liked it. The Metacritic score was 54, with not a single score above 75 among the fifteen critics they cited. The harshest reviewers used words like "cloying" and "mawkish" to describe the film's overall tone.

The individuals who have commented at IMDb could not disagree with the critics more dramatically. The film is rated 7.7 with nearly 4000 votes. 87% of those votes have been a seven or higher. The actual numerical average score is 8.1; the median is 8. The most typical comment is "one of my favorite films." And these comments are not the usual phony-baloney IMDb plants linked to new accounts which have never commented on another film. These are real comments from real people.

I tend to be with the people on this one. The critics raised some good points about the outrageously melodramatic back story for the Rickman character, and the script could have added a little more dimension to the cop character, who turned out to be more or less like a comic relief buffoon from an Italian opera, but in general I think the film's merits outweigh its flaws and tilt the balance to "favorable."

I don't really find the film mawkish at all, although it certainly has placed plenty of intimacy and emotion right on the surface. How could it do otherwise, given the subject matter? In fact, I think the premise could have been mawkish, but avoided that pitfall quite skillfully. Rickman's sardonic attitude toward the autistic woman is refreshing. He finds her annoying, and tells her so, but he also makes genuine contact with her as a fellow human being, and not just as a helpless creature who needs his assistance. The portrayal of the autistic woman is complex, and often very entertaining. She is truly irritating at times, but the script makes some interesting use of her condition, since she is not really capable of sustaining a normal level of human grief, and yet is facing one of the greatest tragedies a human ever has to face - a mother's loss of her own child. Her emotionless and completely pragmatic approach to life and death is interesting and sometimes very amusing. "My daughter is dead. We can't make her come back. Life is for the living. Let's go play on the trampoline." I appreciate the fact that the film doesn't go for an Egoyan level of gravitas, but chooses instead to leaven the tone with humor and whimsy.

The script also allowed the autistic woman moments of real insight which revealed the shining intelligence beneath her emotionally damaged exterior. Many people with functioning autistic children commented on the IMDb board about the realism of the character, and praised Weaver's portrayal. I can't evaluate the matter personally, but I weigh those comments much more heavily than those of the critics who thought Sigourney laid it on too thick, ala I Am Sam.

As I started to watch this film, I was immediately engrossed in the battle of wills between the daughter and Rickman, with her pressing him to open up, and Mr. Sarcastic softening ever so slowly. I was into their conversation and really starting to like the girl. I was pleased to see him finally break into a smile at her antics - just as the truck came out of nowhere and barreled into them. I am impressed by the tightrope walk attempted by a storyline which knocks off such a great character so quickly and so forcefully, thus completely altering the focus of the film. Of course, anybody can TRY that walk without a net, but I am even more impressed when the attempt is actually quite successful.

Some critics argued that the script would have seemed weak without the major talents of Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver to carry it, but that seems to me like persnickety and hypothetical quibbling. Sure, Raiders might have sucked with Wally Cox as Indiana Jones, but the fact of the matter is that it has Harrison Ford, and this movie has Rickman/Weaver. In either example, the principals bring so much to the table that the film works.

 

DVD INFO

* widescreen

 

 

 

 

THE CRITICS AND ACADEMIES

1 The Guardian (of 5 stars)
4 BBC  (of 5 stars)
65 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
54 Metacritic.com (of 100)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PEOPLE

   
7.7 IMDB summary (of 10)
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BOX OFFICE

Box Office Mojo. It grossed $26,000 in the USA, about $1.3 million elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NUDITY REPORT

  • There is no real nudity. At least I don't think so. Maybe Carrie-Anne Moss showed some areola in her sex scene with Rickman. Maybe not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:

C