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Review: Big News from Grand Rock

Just because a film pulls off the now nearly impossible task of being perfectly pleasant and inoffensive, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good movie. The Canadian indie film Big News from Grand Rock serves as a perfect example of this. It’s pleasing in the same way a radio episode of Vinyl Cafe or The Prairie Home Companion might be, but a lot less funny. It’s jovial background noise in the form of a semi-cinematic comedy that forgets to be funny.

Leonard Crane (Ennis Esmer) has worked as the editor at the small town Grand Rock newspaper for most of his adult life. It’s hardly a stressful job, even with a crew of misfit employees who aren’t that helpful. But a severe lack of stories and a hemorrhaging of advertising money has forced the owner of The Weekly Ledger (Gordon Pinsent) into selling of shutting down operations. Desperate to keep his job and bring a steady income back to the publication, Leonard starts making up plausible(ish) public interest stories he has stolen wholesale from semi-obscure movies he watched on TV or rented at the video store (Larger Than Life, Easy Money, Overboard). When a bid at creating a more high profile and dangerous sounding story gets noticed outside the town, Leonard has to deal with an outside reporter (Meredith MacNeill) who thinks he’s full of baloney.

Much like the titular town, the film isn’t very much to look at and is largely unexceptional in most respects. Writer and director Daniel Perlmutter does an adequate job of pacing and containing an easy to tell story, but there’s little energy to how it’s being told. Each act has a clear beginning and end, and the final of the three feels like something that’s been pulled from out of nowhere to make its almost sociopathic main character somewhat more likable and worthy of redemption. Even the dialogue seems written more for casting the film than any sort of effect. The lines being fed are drab and can only be salvaged by actors who can breathe some life into them.

But with dialogue this stilted, there’s only so much that can be done. I assume at some point this was supposed to be a sort of Ontario riff on the Corner Gas dynamic, but Perlmutter forgets that Brent Butt actually gave his supporting cast full arcs and characters to work with. Esmer has always been a likable actor, but all he can do here is smile, nod, and go along with everything to the letter. He has good chemistry with MacNeill, but her character gets saddled with an unusual propensity for stumbling over her words that gets annoying very shortly after she shows up around the midpoint of the film. Pinsent and Shawn Ashmore (as the video store clerk who helps in the fraud) make the best of their time, but all three of Leonard’s primary co-workers are talented actors almost embarrassingly wasted. Barbara (Tammy Isbell) is a pessimistic, lazy jerk. Bill (Peter Keleghan) is a basic idiot. Amanda (Kristin Booth, who deserves way better than second banana character work here) is a shy, mousy voiced introvert. No one can play off each other adequately enough to make anything of this.

And yet, I still feel pretty bad ragging on Big News from Grand Rock. I didn’t laugh or smile a single time in 87 minutes, but I could constantly think in my mind that I know people who would enjoy this and that those people are sadly part of a dying breed. Grandparents would probably enjoy this, or at least anyone about ten years past retirement. People on airplanes without much concept of what makes Canadian cinema would get an okay primer from this. Those are really the only people I could see getting a kick out of something this lifeless. I didn’t hate it, but I felt absolutely nothing watching it, which is arguably worse.

[star v=2]

Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker is a freelance film critic in Toronto. You can follow him on twitter @andrewjparker.