Capturing that distressing moment in your mid-30s when you start to feel hemmed in by all of the ill-advised decisions that you made in your 20s, Sundowners is a tremendously funny buddy comedy that makes splendid use of its likeable cast and exotic locale. With a freewheeling and episodic structure befitting a brief sojourn abroad, the film maps the dizzying highs of escaping a mundane existence and the awful accompanying realization that it will at some point have to come to an abrupt end.
Alex (comedian Phil Hanley) is a wedding videographer who once had dreams of becoming a bona fide filmmaker. He works for a company run by the eccentric Tom (Tim Heidecker), who decides to dispatch Alex to a big job in Mexico to film a destination wedding. With Tom desperate for some new blood behind the camera, Alex enlists his best friend Justin (Born Ruffians' Luke Lalonde) to help, who has little photography experience and is weighed down by both a terrible call centre job and being the caretaker of his ailing grandmother.
But after they deceive Tom into thinking Justin knows his way behind a lens, they set off together to Mexico. Once they get to the resort, they meet all of the participants in the wedding. There's the bride (Cara Gee), the groom (Nick Flanagan) who immediately confides that he's in financial trouble, the best man (Islands' Nick Thorburn) who's secretly in love with the bride, the father-of-the-bride (David John Phillips) who takes a real liking to Justin and the sister of the bride (Jackie Pirico) who does the same while invoking memories of Isla Fisher's stage five clinger in Wedding Crashers.
Leading up to the nuptials, there are naturally all sorts of hijinks, with writer-director Pavan Moondi showcasing a great knack for crafting comic scenes out of the most basic of set-ups. For instance, a sequence in which Alex and Justin wander around their hotel trying to remember which room they are staying in leads to an escalating series of amusing non-sequiturs. There are also a couple of good running jokes involving wake-up calls and the challenge of folding up a collapsible reflector.
Through it all, acting neophytes Hanley and Lalonde maintain wonderful chemistry and familiarity with each other, as their back-and-forth banter provides some of the film's biggest laughs. Heidecker makes the most of his limited screen time, with Moondi giving him plenty of room to riff (and even sing) on some hilarious tangents. Flanagan and Thorburn, who have both appeared in past projects of Moondi's, also manage to leave an impression in their supporting roles, with the latter even providing the film's score and a few choice Islands songs for the memorable soundtrack.
The film continues the growth Moondi displayed previously in Everyday Is Like Sunday with Diamond Tongues (whose star, July Talk's Leah Fay Goldstein, makes a brief appearance here), while furthering the loose and improvisational feel that is becoming his stock in trade. Fuelled by the energy of the performers and vibrant location (actually shot in Colombia, not Mexico), there's a palpable sense of fun and camaraderie that jumps off the screen and can't help but be contagious for the viewer. Alex and Justin may be floundering while trying to find their purpose in life, but Moondi cements himself here as one of Canada's best emerging filmmakers.
(Search Engine Films)