(Canada, 118 min.)
Written and directed by Gia Milani
Starring: Karine Vanasse, Cory Monteith, Emily Hampshire, Kevin Zegers
Ah, the big box store. It’s the place where everything is easy and accessible. Life is one-stop shopping with groceries, clothes, and electronics only a few aisles away and all for low, low prices. If only life could be so perfect!
The people who run the big box store in All the Wrong Reasons, however, are an imperfect bunch. Each of the four employees writer/director Gia Milani follows at a fictional big box store called Fairfax are all dealing with trauma—how un-Walmart-y!—as they satisfy customers under the fluorescent lights. There’s Kate Ascher (Karine Vanasse), who runs store surveillance from a comfortable distance. Observing the action of the store through cameras and monitors, Kate escapes in isolation and watches over her colleagues and their customers to escape the memory seeing her sister die before her eyes.
Kate’s husband, James (Cory Monteith), managers the store, but he fails to treat his aloof wife with the same courtesy and patience with which he serves the customers. James tires of Kate’s fear of human connection—her crippling anxiety leaves her in fear of human contact—so he begins an affair with a saucy cashier named Nicole (Emily Hampshire). Nicole struggles with personal demons of her own, since her impatience with single-motherhood leaves her nostalgic for her fading youth and spending her retail wage on Botox instead of on babysitters. Simon (Kevin Zegers), finally, starts a new job as a temporary security guard at the store, but the physical scars left by an accident in his previous career put his self-confidence and security in as much of mess as Kate’s does.
All the Wrong Reasons feels relatable and real as Milani presents a quartet of characters who are flawed and fleshed out. The arcs that transform Kate, James, Nicole, and Simon are believable journeys. The naturalism of the script makes the film steadily convincing, for Milani observes the characters with an authentic eye.
The way the characters react to trauma feels true to life, especially Kate’s guarded relationship with her husband and colleagues. She builds invisible walls around herself, best symbolized in the literal comfort zone marked in red tape around her workstation, which prevents people from touching her outside of her own terms. Her marriage with James is just as mediated as her voyeuristic glances through the store, as Kate insists on cybersex despite the fact that she and James once shared a bed. These characters are idiosyncratic enough to make All the Wrong Reasons appealing and engaging, but Milani dramatizes the human condition with enough sobriety and restraint to make the drama feel consistently real.
Audiences will likely give attention to All the Wrong Reasons since it’s one of two films that actor Cory Monteith wrapped before his tragic death in 2013. (The other film is McCanick.) Glee fans will especially be impressed by the darker side that Monteith shows while playing the philandering James, for the actor does a fine job of presenting James’s stuffy air for keeping up appearances. If Monteith’s performance leaves viewers sad for the loss of a young talent, though, the performances by his fellow Canuck stars are cause for celebration.
Vanasse is very strong as Kate, which is arguably the most complicated role of the film. Vanasse carries much of the film by moving back-and-forth between Kate’s anxious outbursts and her subtle moments where she sits frozen by her monitors, eager to reach out to the people she watches but afraid of intimacy and communication. Zegers, sporting a heavy East Coast accent for the Nova Scotia production, impresses with a largely physical performance that contrasts with Kate’s standoffish demeanour. Hampshire, finally, gives another notable turn as Nicole. Hampshire dares the audience to dislike Nicole as she presents a woman who is both uncomfortable with her body and eager to flaunt what she still has. Youthful, yet jaded, while being funny, but also strung-out and pitiable, Hampshire best realizes the flaws that Milani injects into the characters of her film.
The simple and straightforward aesthetic of Milani’s direction lets the writing and acting feel real and raw under the bright fluorescent lighting that DP Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron floods into the frame. (All the Wrong Reasons even features a nice nod to the cinematographer when Kate pops a copy of Les amours imaginaires into the home video department of the store and lets the vibrant colours of the film play on every screen.) Milani makes an assured feature debut as a director by letting the ensemble of All the Wrong Reasons inhabit the skins of these complicated characters. A colourful supporting cast featuring local talents and veterans like Marguerite McNeil add to the film’s humorously spot-on realization of the strange family dynamic that thrives in a retail environment. All the Wrong Reasons, with its authentic ensemble, is both a bittersweet farewell and a welcome celebration for Canadian talent.
Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)
All the Wrong Reasons will be available on DVD, VOD, iTunes, and SONY across Canada on June 23, 2014.