Jake Roulette (Mark Rendall) is an unhappy high school teacher who faces a new set of troubles when his father, a once successful writer named Lief Roulette (Nicholas Campbell), decides to show up. Lief, an absentee father with a secretive past, attempts to convince Jake to return to the neglected family cabin in Algonquin Park in order to co-write a book about the landscape. Jake, who is still dealing with the hurt of being abandoned, reluctantly agrees. However, when an unexpected tragedy strikes, the trip is brought to a sudden halt.
Not wanting to abandon the project, Jake returns to the cabin to finish the book. Spending his days writing and exploring the stunning landscape, Jake’s solitude is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of Carmen and her son Iggy. As their relationship to one another is revealed, Jake is forced to come to terms with the many secrets his father left behind. In an attempt to reconcile his memories with his father’s deceptions, Jake takes Iggy on a canoe trip through the majesty of Algonquin’s lakes and rivers in order to find a secret and symbolic place. Jake and Iggy’s journey becomes one of self discovery, as the two characters learn to embrace the ever shifting meaning of family and the necessity of forgiveness.
Written and directed by first time feature-length director Jonathan Hayes, Algonquin stars Canadian acting greats like Nicholas Campbell and Shelia McCarthy. Mark Rendall and Nicholas Campbell effectively highlight the emotional ups-and-downs of a tumultuous father-son relationship. Even the young Michael Levinson, who plays Iggy, holds his own by portraying his character as an intelligent, sympathetic, and troubled kid. Rendall and Levinson work well together, and there are some genuinely moving moments that occur between them during the film.
Algonquin does have some shortcomings, especially when the film introduces a fanatical park ranger who occasionally pops up to give Jake and Iggy trouble during their canoe trip. The inclusion of the humorous scenes with the ranger seem misplaced in the mostly serious film. The attempt at adding comedic relief unfortunately falls flat and does not add anything to the already lengthy story.
Excluding the occasional flaws, what makes the movie an enjoyable experience overall is watching the relationships between the characters unfold in a setting that pays homage to the beauty of Ontario’s treasured provincial park. Algonquin is a beautifully shot film that presents a moving portrayal of learning the importance of coming to terms with one’s past in order to heal.