Mar 6, 2015

Review: Snow Cake (2006)

Before watching Snow Cake, I knew pretty nothing about it besides the fact that it starred Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver. That was probably a good thing because I soon discovered that Weaver plays a character who has autism. If I had known that beforehand, I'd have probably been a lot more skeptical about the film. Movies with mentally handicapped characters seem to have a habit of being a little too emotionally cloying for my taste so it was definitely in my best interest not to have known this beforehand.

Anyhow, this independent Marc Evans helmed piece is a Canadian/UK co-production filmed on location in Wawa, Ontario, Canada. I love it. I'm of the opinion that there are few things as satisfying as when a movie is filmed on location. Snow Cake ended up getting some pretty major attention at the 27th Genie Awards which recognize the best Canadian films of the year. Sadly, I don't know of too many people in Canada who care about our national movie award shows. That's why they later merged with the Gemini Awards in 2012 to form the Canadian Screen Awards for good reason. Better to consolidate than fail alone.


Genre: drama, romance
Directed by: Marc Evans
Produced by: Gina Carter, Jessica Daniel, Andrew Eaton, etc.
Written by: Angela Pell
Music by: Broken Social Scene
Running time: 112 minutes
Production company: Revolution Films, Rhombus Media, UK Film Council, etc.
Distributed by: Alliance Atlantis Motion Picture Distribution, IFC Films, Momentum Pictures, etc.
Country: Canada, United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: €3,000,000
Box office: $1,381,665 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Hampshire, James Allodi, Callum Keith Rennie, David Fox, Jayne Eastwood, Janet van de Graaf, Selina Cadell, Jackie Laidlaw



Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman), on his way to Winnipeg, Manitoba goes in for a meal at a truck stop. There he meets a chatty young woman named Vivienne Freeman (Emily Hampshire) who's looking to get a lift to Wawa, Ontario to visit her mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver). Alex rebuffs her at first, but later has a change of heart as he's pulling away from the restaurant. Tragedy unfortunately finds them during their roadtrip.


The worst case scenario of what could happen to a drama film with a mentally handicapped character such as Snow Cake became reality for me to a certain extent. That's because the dramatic and emotional scenes in the movie unfortunately feel quite forced a lot of the time and just a bit too "prepared" if you know what I mean. You can see where Marc Evans is going because of Angela Pell's middling script and as a result, Snow Cake is not really anything to write home about in the heartfelt or poignancy department.

That doesn't mean Snow Cake fails completely in its mission of creating an emotionally charged story about friendship, love and acceptance. There are some scenes that do a good job at forging some level of emotion such as the "comic book Scrabble" scene with Alex and Linda playing an invented offshoot version of the popular game. This is where we see a bit of magic between Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver which is definitely the highlight of the film.

Alan Rickman plays a straight-faced and reserved character who doesn't really like to talk about himself due to his shady past. Everyone seems to think he's hiding something anyway even if he does his best to hide that. His reactions to Linda's handicap seem very realistic and apparently Rickman had really made the (extra?) effort to not do any research into autism so that his reactions could be as genuine as possible. Mission accomplished there.

In terms of Sigourney Weaver, the success of Snow Cake hinges mostly on her performance and thankfully she doesn't let anyone down. There's a lot that can go wrong with a mentally handicapped character like Linda and it doesn't necessarily come down to the actor. A lot of it has to do with the writing and unfortunately there are a couple of occasions where the writing does let Weaver down. Still, she puts together a pretty convincing performance that even surprised me. I've always known that Sigourney Weaver was talented but a role like this is definite proof of her flexibility.

Weaver goes beyond just getting the mannerisms of someone with high-functioning autism right. She's clearly put a lot of work into understanding Linda as a person and as a result the non-emotions that Weaver has to convey work quite well. There are some scenes that end up feeling a bit silly because of Angela Pell's script, but I really don't put any of that blame on Weaver's shoulders.

Snow Cake doesn't have an awful script by any means, but it's disappointing to say the least. Melodrama is just too common of an occurrence and I wish Carrie-Anne Moss' character Maggie could've have had more of a part to play. Although I can see what Pell was trying to do with the Maggie character in terms of judgement, acceptance and all that, her story ends on a real sour note for me.

To watch Snow Cake is to watch it for the partnership between Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver. This is where the film shines and it owes a lot to these two stars who make watching the film worth it. I did all the same appreciate Marc Evans' efforts in framing the cold, small-town and empty expanses of Wawa, Ontario though. If only he had had a better script to work with. However, I will admit that Pell's ending is quite clever. 



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