2014 Canadian Film Fest: PLAY the Film – Film Review

Director: Alec Toller
Writer: Kelly McCormack
Actors: Roger Bainbridge, Conor Bradbury, Kristian Bruun, Gwenlyn Cumyn, Caitlin Driscoll, Kelly McCormack
Rating: 14A
Runtime: 79 min

Many situation comedies suffer the fatal flaw of becoming too over-the-top in an attempt at pushing the envelope. Seldom do we see a film that does the opposite, choosing to play it safe and ultimately not hitting hard enough. PLAY the Film (2013) is a piece that boasts a witty premise and a cast full of quirky characters. Although the outrageous plot promises laughs, the film itself occasionally seems to lack teeth and never goes in for the kill. Inoffensive and benign, this film is amusing, but could have been a lot more had it not been afraid of pushing a few buttons.

PLAY the film

PLAY the Film relates the story of the opening night of a theatre performance that goes terribly wrong. When the gun prop that is supposed to be used to kill a character fails to appear in the murderess’ handbag, the actors are forced to frantically improvise a brand new play wherein said character does not die. A serious work that aims to make a political statement quickly becomes a screwball comedy as each actor attempts to steer the plot in the direction in which they desire for it to go. As each character in the play develops, they begin to reveal personality traits of the characters in the film, and the audience gradually learns more about them as art truly does start to imitate life. In the course of a single evening, friendships and acting abilities alike are tested, as well as the gullibility of a live, paying audience.

PLAY the Film features an exciting ensemble cast of Canadian actors portraying a host of diverse and likeable individuals. The diva, the method actor, and the bit part guy straight out of theatre school are all present, and although these characters may be clichés, they are nonetheless easy to get behind and root for in their recognisability. Some of the actors are much stronger than others; I very much enjoyed the performance presented by young Gwenlyn Cumyn, who stood out in a cast of weaker females. The handheld camera technique that was used, along with the opening interview montage, added a feeling of immediacy and a non-fiction style to the work.

PLAY the film

This film does present a few very smart and witty jokes that prompted a smile and a snicker. I also very much enjoyed the poignant – and very self aware – conclusive statement in regards to society’s ability to ascribe meaning where none exists. However, I couldn’t help but wish at times that the film simply went further: sharper, deeper, or even snider. I have criticized works for being too over-the-top and offensive, but a wacky premise such as this one deserves some appropriately madcap events. So much more could have happened, and so many more jokes could have been made. This complaint aside, however, I did relate to the layered characters, I did enjoy the situation, and I did appreciate what the film was trying to say.

Sometimes, it truly is enjoyable for an audience to wince as we laugh. Politically incorrect jokes can be funny, as they represent things we would never say in our real lives, but find amusing when uttered in the fictional story world of film. PLAY the Film plays it safe, presenting quirky characters and an outrageous concept but omitting the extreme jokes and events. Nevertheless, the film does amuse, and is certainly good for a few chuckles and societal statements.

PLAY the film plays March 22 at 4:15 PM at The Royal Cinema.