A Breath of Fresh Air

Mountain Men
(Canada, 85 min.)
Written and directed by Cameron Labine
Starring: Chace Crawford, Tyler Labine
Tyler Labine and Chace Crawford star in Mountain Men.
Pacific Northwest Pictures.

“I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of these mountains,” my sister once said as our family drove through the Rockies on our first ski trip out west. Her oft-quoted (and oft-maligned) bit of rental car poetry perfectly captures that bizarre power of the mountains that transforms people into new beings. (The altitude and thin mountain probably help, too.) Sibling follies meet the magnitude of the mountains in the coming-of-age comedy Mountain Men starring Chace Crawford and Tyler Labine as two very different brothers who bond when a cabin trip gone awry inspires them to answer the call of the wild. They grow up to be the men their father always wanted them to be, and it’s hard not to feel a little moved—overwhelmed, say—by Mountain’s end.

This funny and very, very Canadian comedy offers a bit of brotherly love on both sides of the camera as Labine works with his writer/director brother Cameron (Control Alt Delete) with enjoyable results. Credit some of Tyler Labine’s naturally funny confidence and shaggy dog appeal to a good working relationship between the two brothers, but Labine and Crawford also have strong chemistry as the odd couple of Pollard brothers. They’re a fun set as the bumbling, oafish Topher (Labine) and the suave, metropolitan Cooper (Crawford).

The brothers seem different on first appearances as Toph begrudgingly does a parking lot pot deal while awaiting news that his girlfriend (Britt Irvin) is pregnant. This burnout of the bros needs to get his act together now that there’s a bun in the oven, and Toph idealizes Cooper as he awaits his return home for their mother’s wedding. When Cooper arrives with his fancy schmancy winter coat and designer jeans, he clearly clashes with the homey values of his wool-wearing mountain-town/country bumpkin family. As he talks up his job and calls his absentee girlfriend “a twelve,” it’s pretty obvious to everyone but Toph that Cooper isn’t all that.

At the wedding, the boys’ mom (Christine Willes, who could easily play Ann Dowd’s twin sister in a future indie) begs each son to help steer the other back on track. The boys decide to take a trip to the family cabin in the woods and explore the place where boys become men as they comb through the effects of their long-disappeared father. When the plan and the cabin go up in smoke (literally), the brothers retrace a familiar path from their childhood to find the journey home.

Mountain Men keeps the comedy sharp and the drama focused by balancing the two on the pair of actors and the respective strengths they bring to the film. Labine is broad and likable, making Toph an amiable doofus and teddy bear with his skills for physical comedy and his underdog charm. Crawford handles the dramatic terrain nimbly and finds a few laughs by playing it straight to the stoner comedy bits that come with his onscreen brother’s personality. The actors let their screen personas be their guides as each brother becomes more than he appears to be and grows along the journey.

Cameron Labine lets the film play successfully as a two-hander using the yin and yang of Labine and Crawford, and the film uses a few crucial moments of brotherly bonding to invest the audience in the family’s growth, its past and its future, by pitting the brothers against the wilderness and the elements in a game of survivalism. One sequence with the brothers descending a cliff is both a white-knuckler and a rib-tickling feat of situational comedy as Toph levers his brother, sleigh-ridden with a broken leg, down the edge while navigating the rope on the ledge above. Gasp and laugh at the same time, and it’s hard not to root for the underdogs who can’t quite find the alpha dogs within.

The film also finds a strong star in the breathtaking scenery of Revelstoke and the Rocky Mountains. The snowy landscape shots are stirring sights—wild, beautiful, and even terrifying—and a great backdrop to show how much these brothers need one another to survive. It feels like there’s nobody else in the world but Toph and Cooper as Mountain Men leads them through the rocky terrain, and the wonderful score by Andrew Harris puts audiences along for the trek. It’s a workout both emotionally and physically, and a wonderful journey to which audiences can relate, especially if they find the woods to be the right place for inspiration. Mountain Men is a breath of fresh air.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Mountain Men opens in Vancouver on August 28th and in Toronto, Calgary, and Ottawa (Kanata) on September 4th.

The film will also screen nationally on September 2nd as part of the Canadian Indie Film Series.