Holy Hannah. This is my second consecutive Canadian film featuring
Carrie-Anne Moss and Callum Keith Rennie. Actually, "Canadian film featuring
Callum Keith Rennie" is redundant. He is in every Canadian movie. As you know,
Canada has been heavily influenced by French culture, so they have copied the
constitutional provision that requires every film made in the country to
feature Gerard Depardieu, except with Rennie's name substituted for
The storyline in Snow Cake revolves around a tragic auto accident. A
taciturn old Englishman, on his way to Winnipeg through frozen northern
Ontario, for mysterious reasons explained later as part of the story's hook,
picks up a young female hitchhiker at a truck stop. Although she never stops
gabbing, and he rarely starts, the grumpy gentleman finally starts to warm to
her openness and na´vetÚ - just as they are run over by a massive truck near
the town of Wawa, just north of Lake Superior. He walks away nearly unscathed,
but she is killed instantly.
This is not really a spoiler in that it happens shortly after the film
The old man knows that his hitchhiker was taking some odd gifts to her mom,
so he resolves to track down the mother and deliver the gifts himself, along
with his condolences. The mother turns out to be a "high-functioning
autistic," and the two of them form an unlikely bond which lasts until the
girl's funeral. The other players in the drama are: a sexually voracious
neighbor who seduces the older gentleman; an inept local cop who wants the
horny neighbor's attentions for his own; the driver of the truck which killed
the girl; and the parents of the autistic woman, who actually raised their
granddaughter as well.
That's just about the entire movie. The old fellow spends a few days in
Wawa and arranges the funeral. He bonds with some of the locals, thinks about
staying, then decides to resume his trip to his original destination.
As you may have guessed, it's not an action film.
There is a mystery in the subtext, in that the gentleman refuses to tell
anyone about his life or why he is driving to Winnipeg, but that's not what
makes or breaks the film. The appeal of this Canadian drama inheres within the
characters and the actors who give them life. There is nothing to quibble
about when it comes to the actors. Alan Rickman plays the older man with
dignity, sadness, and only a touch of his normal cynicism. Sigourney Weaver
plays the autistic woman. Carrie-Anne Moss plays the sexy neighbor. Weaver and
Moss were nominated for Genies for their performances, as was the girl whose
brief appearance as the daughter was quite quirky and charismatic. The film
also received a nomination for cinematography. Of the four nominations, only
Moss walked off with the hardware.
Snow Cake is a film which has caused a sharp divide between critics and
moviegoers. In general, the critics dismissed it as a pseudo-Egoyan film
without Atom's customary gravitas, and sharply criticized the unlikely trail
of melodramatic baggage carried by the Rickman character. It turns out that he
kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, murdered several children, and wants to give
Iranians the atomic bomb so they can conquer Canada and eat all the cute
little Husky, Newfy, and Lab puppies. I fabricated that, of course, but it
gives you the right general idea. As the character's secrets are revealed, the
script piles tragedy upon tragedy into this guy's background, until he makes
Job seem to have gotten a free skate.
The Guardian was especially harsh in its criticism, awarding the film the
lowest possible score, but few critics really liked it. The Metacritic score
was 54, with not a single score above 75 among the fifteen critics they cited.
The harshest reviewers used words like "cloying" and "mawkish" to describe the
film's overall tone.
The individuals who have commented at IMDb could not disagree with the
critics more dramatically. The film is rated 7.7 with nearly 4000 votes. 87%
of those votes have been a seven or higher. The actual numerical average score
is 8.1; the median is 8. The most typical comment is "one of my favorite
films." And these comments are not the usual phony-baloney IMDb plants linked
to new accounts which have never commented on another film. These are real
comments from real people.
I tend to be with the people on this one. The critics raised some good
points about the outrageously melodramatic back story for the Rickman
character, and the script could have added a little more dimension to the cop
character, who turned out to be more or less like a comic relief buffoon from
an Italian opera, but in general I think the film's merits outweigh its flaws
by enough to tilt the balance to "favorable."
I don't really find the film mawkish at all, although it certainly has
placed plenty of intimacy and emotion right on the surface. How could it do
otherwise, given the subject matter? In fact, I think the premise could have
been mawkish, but avoided that pitfall quite skillfully. Rickman's sardonic
attitude toward the autistic woman is refreshing. He finds her annoying, and
tells her so, but he also makes genuine contact with her as a fellow human
being, and not just as a helpless creature who needs his assistance. The
portrayal of the autistic woman is complex, and often very entertaining. She
is truly irritating at times, but the script makes some interesting use of her
condition, since she is not really capable of sustaining a normal level of
human grief, and yet is facing one of the greatest tragedies a human ever has
to face - a mother's loss of her own child. Her emotionless and completely
pragmatic approach to life and death is interesting and sometimes very
amusing. "My daughter is dead. We can't make her come back. Life is for the
living. Let's go play on the trampoline." I appreciate the fact that the film
doesn't go for an Egoyan level of gravitas, but chooses instead to leaven the
tone with humor and whimsy.
The script also allowed the autistic woman moments of real insight which
revealed the shining intelligence beneath her emotionally damaged exterior.
Many people with functioning autistic children commented on the IMDb board
about the realism of the character, and praised Weaver's portrayal. I can't
evaluate the matter personally, but I weigh those comments much more heavily
than those of the critics who thought Sigourney laid it on too thick, ala I Am
As I started to watch this film, I was immediately engrossed in the battle
of wills between the daughter and Rickman, with her pressing him to open up,
and Mr. Sarcastic softening ever so slowly. I was into their conversation and
really starting to like the girl. I was pleased to see him finally break into
a smile at her antics - just as the truck came out of nowhere and barreled
into them. I am impressed by the tightrope walk attempted by a storyline which
knocks off such a great character so quickly and so forcefully, thus
completely altering the focus of the film. Of course, anybody can TRY that
walk without a net, but I am even more impressed when the attempt is actually
Some critics argued that the script would have seemed weak without the
major talents of Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver to carry it, but that seems
to me like persnickety and hypothetical quibbling. Sure, Raiders might suck
with Wally Cox as Indiana Jones, but the fact of the matter is that it has
Harrison Ford, and this movie has Rickman/Weaver. In either example, the
principals bring so much to the table that the film works.
There is no real nudity. At least I don't think so. Maybe Moss showed some
areola in her sex scene with Rickman.
Here's the film clip, so you
can figure it out on your own, provided that you want to see a 60-year-old guy
making hot monkey love with Trinity. Some large captures are seen below, but
they are still inconclusive.