Published Oct 17, 2013Though the custom spreads beyond the borders of the second-largest country in the world, there's something distinctly Canadian about the advent of weekend getaways for the family. Like clockwork, every long weekend of the summer brings Friday afternoon highway traffic jams of eager urbanites looking to vacate the oppressive confines of the concrete jungle, in favour of a quiet retreat, where one can go outside without fear of a neighbour or stranger immediately encroaching upon their personal space.
An understanding of, and appreciation for, this custom — one that often involves elaborate schedules made by families looking to divvy up time away without having to deal with each other — is partially necessary to get the bigger joke of Peter Wellington's Cottage Country. Playing as a dark comedy, it relies on the extreme agitation that might occur if a quiet weekend getaway was ruined by the sort of lack of consideration the trip specifically aims to escape.
Todd Chipowski (Tyler Labine), a moderately straight-laced, mostly generic middle-class city dweller, takes girlfriend Cammie (Malin Akerman) to his family cottage, hoping to propose to her. Though he's booked the weekend for himself on the family schedule, his decidedly less conservative, slacker moron of a brother, Salinger (Dan Petronijevic), shows up with his Eastern European girlfriend (Lucy Punch), hoping to party (and loudly partake in coitus) the weekend away.
Initially, the tepid comedy plays off the passive-aggressiveness and inherent fear of conflict often attributed to Canucks. Todd's obviously pissed and bitches about the problem to his girlfriend, but when confronted by his brother, he can only ask pointed questions about whether or not he checked the schedule. The other gags stem from the obvious disparity in guiding ideologies between the two couples, with Salinger and Masha (Punch) having a candid disposition towards the many things that Todd and Cammie find morally objectionable.
Because all of the actors are invested with their respective characters, this dynamic works, despite having little actual comedy or any sense of originality in conflict, structure or composition. It's when Cottage Country takes a dark turn, having a play fight between Todd and Salinger turn into an accidental murder, that the film tests its audience to indulge in the absurdist dark comedy or reject the lack of believability in character reactions and motivations.
In a basic narrative sense, Wellington's mediocre reiteration of Very Bad Things fails. The storyline becomes too preoccupied with maintaining its tension and caustic unpredictability to consider its characters and what they might be going through. Todd and Cammie's relationship is obviously tested by the advent of cold-blooded murder, but their interaction with each other is exceedingly forced, not having enough of an established framework to support the extreme turn it eventually takes.
Since Cottage Country eventually devolves into comedic hyperbole, the assumption is that silly things like character motivation and tonal consistency were unimportant on a canvas intended for sensationalized, twisted gags. Unfortunately, everything is less amusing than aggravating, having no ire or commentary amidst the murders and unreasonable rationalizations. As such, this pitch-black comedy has a milquetoast disposition, relying on its initially relatable gag to fuel what becomes a series of strained interactions and painful plot developments.
Alas, no one involved gets or even understands the bigger, unspoken joke not present in the film, wherein the locals from cottage country pack up and leave for long weekends to avoid the onslaught of entitled city-dwellers. (eOne)