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What is it to be Canadian?
Loves: Canada, hockey, documentaries
Dislikes: Documentaries starring the director
I love America, but I harbor a secret (well, not that secret) love for our neighbor to the north. I can name all of the provinces. When I was looking at colleges as a high-school student, I actually gave serious consideration to attending the University of Manitoba at Winnipeg or McGill University in Montreal. I actually enjoy going to Ottawa. Part of it is my long-term love of hockey, but there's so much to Canada to admire (and I believe Mr Wizard and You Can't Do That On Television, a pair of Canadian productions imported by Nickelodeon, subconsciously gave me Canadian tendencies.)
So the 2013 documentary Being Canadian was naturally appealing to this Faux-nuck. A documentary by transplant sitcom writer Robert Cohen (The Big Bang Theory, According to Jim), it looks at what being a Canadian means, by way of a cross-country road-trip full of history and facts and an assortment of interviews aimed at exploring Canadian stereotypes, like why Canadians are so nice, why they have an inferiority complex and why there's no identifiable Canadian national food (though I'd argue that poutine certainly fits the delicious bill.) For someone with a healthy understanding of Canada, its history and its culture, the film is something of a refresher course (with a few unearthed surprises), but to most it will be an enlightening experience.
No matter what you learn, watching the film will be entertaining simply because of the array of people who participated, including a who's who of Canadian entertainers who have made their name in the States.You've got musicians like Rush, The Barenaked Ladies and Alanis Morissette; actors like Michael J. Fox, Cobie Smulders and William Shatner; well-known celebrities like Alex Trebek, Malcolm Gladwell and Morley Safer, and an incredible assortment of some of the funniest people from the last several decades, including Dan Aykroyd, Mike Meyers, Dave Foley, Catherine O'Hara, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Howie Mandel. There's even some funny Americans on-hand, like Conan O'Brien, Ben Stiller, and Dana Gould, in order to give some of the U.S. perspective on the Great White North. Together, they keep the education fun, making sure you don't zone out by the time the film reaches Saskatchewan.
Though there's lots of interesting trivia in this film, by the time the film ends and Cohen has completed his journey, the core thesis is only given lip service. It doesn't feel like any answers have really been found. Instead, it feels like an extended version of those I Love the ‘80s shows, only focused on America's Hat--an opportunity for people to good-naturedly goof on the quirky customs of our upstairs neighbor, whether it's their bad TV, odd sports or generally low international profile. Cohen's background certainly comes in handy when it comes to profiling such a self-effacing nation, and he digs up some interesting theories about Canada's identity and proficiency at comedy, but there's not a lot of meat when it comes to the film's guiding question. Which may just be the answer it was looking for.
A one-DVD release, packed in a standard keepcase, this disc sports a static, full-frame menu with a single option: play. There are no audio options and no subtitles.
The anamorphic widescreen image on this disc is decent, likely less impressive due to the low-budget production than anything in the disc creation (with a mixture of professionally-shot footage, stock material, archival clips and what may be cell phone video.) Colors are fine, if not particularly vivid, and the level of fine detail is decent for standard definition. Some compression issues are evident in a few spots, but overall, it's not a major issue. At least the film looks far better than some of the Canadian TV productions mentioned in it.
The PCM 2.0 track is possibly the least active track you'll ever hear, made up mainly of interview sound, with some minor musical moments. There are no concerns about the audio, as distortion is not a problem, but it's a pretty mellow presentation.
I guess it's quite Canadian to not think your movie is special enough to have extras, because that's the case here.
The Bottom Line
As I write this review, we have no idea who will win the 2016 presidential election, but we often hear the refrain that if the Republican candidate wins, Democrats will hightail it to Canada. Watching this movie will explain exactly why that is, as it unveils a country that carries on many of the ideals America embraced until somewhat recently. Cohen and a cadre of funny people ensure the lessons are entertaining, even if you already know the info being shared. The disc looks and sounds fine, but there are no extras, so you either have to be a huge Canada fan, or a big comedy fan to want to own this. A rental will do most people just fine.
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.Follow him on Twitter
*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.