The softball term to describe a film like “Things to Do” would be “navel-gazing.” It’s the go-to description for twenty-something cinema. Perhaps the “Garden States” of the world have done their best to turn the natural progression of youthful self-doubt into a cultural off ramp, but “Things to Do” is a gem. A Canadian gem. So its maple-flavored and generous to a fault.
Adam (Mike Stasko) has moved back to his suburban childhood home to settle his mind. A traumatic blow was dealt to him in the cubical world and he wants out. Now back with his parents, Mike stumbles across Mac (Daniel Wilson), a slightly loony man-child with a profound hunger for adventure. Facing a life crisis, Adam makes a “to do” list for his life, counting on Mac to help he accomplish his elaborate goals. The two set off to enhance their lives, but for Adam, it means confronting his hidden pain.
“Things to Do” is not an earth-rattling story of life alteration, and it certainly will not win any awards for production gloss and scope. This is indie cinema that requires expectations to be brought down to value-pricing size. Once acclimated to the casual, brittle nature of the feature, “Things to Do” wastes little time setting the ambiance of youthful confusion and the often hilarious hunt for the great white bliss.
Director Theodore Bezaire is working with very recognizable material, but his gifts behind the camera fight away the distress of convention. The filmmaker sets a kind, informal tone for “Things to Do.” Rarely is anything in the picture intrusive; the malaise of the lead characters informing the material’s pace and ambition sweetly and effectively, leading the viewer along these riverbanks of quirk without pushing the argument to a point of distraction.
I was completely taken with Bezaire’s distanced vision. He has a Wes Anderson-like feel for production minutiae and an easy relationship with slow-pitch eccentricity. The similarities to “Napoleon Dynamite” are there in the crevices of “Things to Do,” but even mentioning that nightmarish cinematic stain would be doing a serious disservice to what makes this dramedy tick. Nothing here is forced upon the audience and Mac’s twerpy behavior isn’t played for cutesy laughs or ironic statements. The film seems to take much more delight in processing the characters’ thoughts and choices, even when they stretch out into comedic areas and moments of slapstick. Bezaire has a fine eye for visual gags and reveals, and his natural directorial way puts just the right spin on the script’s sometimes baffling curveballs.
The centerpiece of the film is the list of moments Adam is working to complete, and it’s a miracle the sitcom inventory (skydiving, relive high school prom, build a soapbox race car) doesn’t curdle from all the potential cute. Bezaire turns the list from a scripted conceit to something far more profound once Adam’s trauma is fully revealed. Through sharp editing, the viewer is fed pieces of the emotional puzzle, and once the motive behind Adam’s change of heart is exposed, “Things to Do” falls into place beautifully.
Again, this is a picture of small charms and even more minuscule production value, but when any film can nail catharsis efficiently, it makes the experience all the more comforting and rewarding.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), the “Things to Do” DVD looks as fine as can be expected from the budgetary constraints. The summertime Canadian suburbia locales are nicely reproduced on the disc, with colors crisp and clean. Some grain is evident during nighttime sequences.
With a 2.0 Dolby Digital sound mix, little audio power is to be expected from a film this humble in scope. However, with clear dialogue recording and a soft environment sound design, the aural experience is perfect for the muted film like “Things to Do.”
A feature-length audio commentary with Bezaire and Stasko is the main supplement on this DVD. With a long history of work between them, the two provide an informative track filled with lighthearted banter. Stasko is the main culprit, discussing the elaborate difficulties of working for no money, but also making time to fool around and break Bezaire’s balls a little. If you enjoy the film, the commentary is worth a listen.
A behind-the-scenes featurette (13 minutes) gives the viewer a look at the production members who gave “Things to Do” life. It’s interesting to watch how this small town feature came to be, and it’s always entertaining to hear a symphony of thick Canadian accents praising even the lowly production assistants for a job well done. The respect and teamwork is evident in the finished product.
“Excerpts from The Carlisle Show” (4 minutes) is a short clip of the fictional daytime talk show that propels Mike’s desire to reassess his dreams.
A theatrical trailer is also included.
Stasko and Wilson are not the most polished of actors. Perhaps their deadpan performance architecture could be mistaken for amateur night by those viewers with less than ideal patience. If you can hurdle the picture’s low-tech nature and comedic design, “Things to Do” is the perfect modest alternative to the other infinitely more unremarkable attempts at addressing the hopes and fears of a restless generation.Rating: A-