In 10 Words or Less
Goofing off as a defense mechanism
Loves: Good indie movies, quirky comedies
Hates: Films that linger
When a film critic references another film in the course of a review,
it's normally for one of two reasons. Either the film is extremely
similar, to the point of being a rip-off or the writer is trying to draw
an easy comparison or contrast to aid the reader in getting the point.
In the span of four short quotes on the box for Things to Do, comparisons are made to
four other movies and TV shows. That definitely got my guard up before
watching this movie. Fortunately for the film, the references are more
of the shorthand variety, though the similarities between this film
and Garden State, "My Name is Earl," and to a lesser extent, Office
Space and Napoleon Dynamite, are somewhat obvious.
When we first meet Adam, he is a easily-ignored young man who just quit
a thankless job in an anonymous big city. After a soulless
exit, he returns to his small-town home and settles into another state
of anonymity, living with two parents with interest only in themselves.
The film could have ended here, with Adam basking in his ennui, and it
would have made a decent statement about the directionless rut many
college grads find themselves in.
A run-in with a former classmate puts an end to all that though, as Mac
draws Adam into his strange little adult-adolescent world. It would be
tempting to call the bearded whirlwind known as Mac a man-child, but there's not much man in there. For
Mac, and many a middle-school boy, a perfect day means playing
basketball in the driveway, shooting off firecrackers and working on his
soapbox derby car. The attractiveness of this pressure-free lifestyle is
undeniable, and Adam soon finds himself wrapped up in Mac's hedonism,
saved from total abandon only by his "Things to Do" list, a set of
accomplishments he's always meant to get to, like skydiving or making a
As Adam and Mac work on the list, the reason why Adam returned home is
slowly revealed via dream-like flashbacks, and his dissatisfaction with
his life grows, putting Adam on the path toward either a revelation or a
breakdown. It's certainly not clear which direction he'll go, and as a
result, the emotion the film evokes, assisted by well-selected music and some poignantly crafted images, is honest and rarely cloying.
Director/co-writer Ted Bezaire seems to have studied the textbooks on Gen X soul-searching cinema, and knows how to use the visual language and aural cues extremely well. The camera sits when it needs to and moves when it makes sense, creating the pretty pictures that allow viewers to fully absorb the meaning of the scene and the touching montages that move a story along. From the first visual to the last, the film is a complete package that complements the script instead of distracting from it, which is what makes the film such a pleasant indie surprise. That and the quality performances by the two leads, Mike Stasko and Dan Wilson, who lend their parts a true realism.
On a side note, I must give the filmmakers a lot of credit for the way
they masked their Canadian setting, making the film a bit more
universal. If not for that distinct accent, you'd have a hard time
distinguishing the locale (unless you catch that tiny Scotiabank sign in
one scene.) Yeah, I'm a hoser.
The one-disc release is packed in a standard keepcase, and features well-designed static anamorphic widescreen menus, with neat animated transitions. Options include play, select scenes and check out extras. The are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film is a beauty, with a clean image that has a high level of detail, solid color and no problems with dirt or damage. The only negative here is some excessive noise during the darker scenes, where a more solid black level would have been nice.
The soundtrack is presented as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and sounds very good, without any noticeable distortion, delivering the dialogue and music strongly and clean. There's not a lot of separation in the channels, but then, there's not a lot of action in the film.
The main extra is an audio commentary by Bezaire and Stasko, who turn in the kind of "two friends watching a movie" track that you'd want to hear for a film like this. They cover most of the bases as far as background info and set stories go, while talking about what's happening on-screen when it strikes them. The conversational tone is just right, keeping things lively and enjoyable throughout.
A 13-minute behind-the-scenes featurette mixes on-set footage with interviews with the cast and crew to look at how the film was made. The production is revealed to be a real "friends and family" effort, and fluff is mostly absent from the piece, making for an interesting insight into the filming. It's followed by a 3:30 clip of a fictional talk show seen in the movie, and the film's trailer.
The Bottom Line
Things to Do doesn't break any new ground in the crowded 20-something navel-gazing market, but it does deliver a solid new entry that's enjoyable and beautiful, with an interesting story and two stars you'll want to spend the relatively short 85 minutes with. The DVD looks and sounds terrific, and the few extras are a nice supplement for the film. Fans of films like the aforementioned Garden State or those who enjoy seeing people at a crossroads in their lives should enjoy this film, and should seek it out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.