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