Sundowners and the Tertiary Life Crisis

(Canada/USA/Colombia, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Pavan Moondi
Starring:  Phil Hanley, Luke Lalonde, Tim Heidecker, Cara Gee, Nick Flanagan, Leah Faye Goldstein
Phil Hanley and Luke Lalond star in Sundowners.
Photo by Jesus Lora
Let’s introduce a new term for aging millennials: the Tertiary Life Crisis. Hitting 30 sucks—but in my case, the milestone coincided with Trump’s inauguration, so many people had a worse weekend than I did—and it’s a time for self-reflection. Particularly for those of us who threw our lives away for arts degrees, it’s hard to feel like an adult in a low-paying job going nowhere when other friends are signing mortgages, getting married, and popping out babies. But some people prefer creative passions, drinks with friends, and cats, so there’s no reason that one lifestyle should eclipse another on the roundabout road to adulthood.

Alex Hopper, for example, is in such a rut. As played by Phil Hanley in Pavan Moondi’s offbeat and relatable Sundowners, Alex is a true millennial caught in a desperate cycle of pursuing his passion and scraping by to make ends meet. He works as a videographer for weddings to fund his love for filmmaking, of which he does very little outside of nuptial gigs, but his d-bag boss (Tim Heidecker) strings him along on with dead-end assignments that exploit his wants and needs for little pay.

Cue a new gig that, naturally, sounds too good to be true. Alex is to go film a destination wedding in Mexico (all-inclusive and all expenses paid) and he may choose a photographer of his liking. He invites his buddy Justin (Luke Lalonde) just for fun. Justin, however, doesn’t know a thing about photography. Like Alex, exists on a perpetual cycle of dead-end jobs and failed relationships. At thirty, he lives with his grandma, hates his low-paying job, and doesn’t know how to climb out of his rut.

Sundowners gives Justin a big wake-up call when his ex, played Diamond Tongues star Leah Faye Goldstein in a notably revitalizing cameo, visits with news that she had an abortion. The big revelation, which Goldstein delivers with a perfectly awkward spurt of word vomit, eases one into the film’s dark humour. Goldstein’s strong cameo sets up the tone and mode of inquiry nicely as Sundowners gives a sense of Moondi’s open approach in terms of exploring how our messy lives overlap while trying to maintain relationships with equally flawed and imperfect people. The July Talk singer appears again only on the film’s eclectic soundtrack that pulses with independent spirit from artists who’ve probably endured similarly quixotic odysseys as Alex and Justin's Mexican adventure to make a living in the art of getting by.

The friends' trip to Mexico goes wrong on virtually every level—as it should for directionless thirtysomethings—as they try to fool the wedding party that they’re a duo of professionals. That’s how one finds oneself. Mexico’s a much better rock bottom than most of us get.

It helps that the wedding party is its own band of misfit toys. Jenny (Cara Gee), for one, seems pretty much perfect as a bride: beautiful, kind, patient, fun, and then some. But why she settles for a spastic dweeb like Mike (Nick Flanagan) remains a mystery. She might be a better fit for Mike’s best man Nick (Nick Thorburn), who, naturally, seems destined to pipe up and object when asked if there’s any reason the bride and groom shouldn’t marry. Jenny’s family is an entire new level of kooky with her nympho sister (Jackie Pirico) and flamboyantly gay father (David John Philips) showing what happens when one settles for a life of convention without going after what one really wants from life. Nobody in Sundowners has his or her shit together, and that realization is wonderfully refreshing.

Sundowners strangely resonates with its dark humour despite the fact that Alex isn’t a particularly charismatic or likable character. His flaws are uncomfortably real, as are Justin’s, and the film is akin to a mirror for thirtysomething audiences who are bound to recognize their own dissatisfactions, frustrations, and appetites for better lives in the misadventures of these two unlikely heroes. Buoyed by humorously convincing performances by non-professional actors Hanley and Lalonde (a comic and musician, respectively), Sundowners is an unconventional coming-of-sorta-middle-age comedy about the insecurities we all inevitably have to confront at some point in our lives.  

Moondi delivers his third feature after Diamond Tongues and Every Day is Like Sunday and it’s easily his best. Gone is the hipster angst of Diamond Tongues and the Queen Street West self-consciousness. Here’s a film that emulates its director’s growing maturity and self-reflection. Maybe it’s the Mexican setting (well, Colombia offering a cheaper stand-in for Mexico) that invites distance and perspective, but this open, honest, candidly funny and disarmingly down to earth film really gets it right.

Sundowners opens in Toronto at TIFF Lightbox on August 25.