Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Canada, 2020. Woods Entertainment, JoBro Productions & Film Finance. Screenplay by Evan Morgan. Cinematography by Mike McLaughlin. Produced by Jonathan Bronfman, William Woods. Music by Jay McCarrol. Production Design by Jennifer Morden. Costume Design by Muska Zurmati. Film Editing by Curt Lobb. Toronto International Film Festival 2020.
As a pre-teen, Private Detective Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) made his reputation solving the case of missing school money and became something of a local celebrity, called upon to help solve further local mysteries and even given honorary treatment by the local Willowbrook police (the film is a Canadian production shot in North Bay, Ontario but the locale is left vague and the cop uniforms made to look American). Abe’s winning streak ended badly in high school when his friend and assistant Gracie, who got paid in soda pop, went missing and was never found, neither he nor the real authorities could solve her disappearance and his business went as far south as his own personal self-esteem. Years later and now a pill-popping, booze-guzzling adult, Abe is barely keeping his detective business together, his parents concerned that his career is less a profession than a childish hobby keeping a grown man from facing mature responsibility. He gets the chance at redemption when a young woman named Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) walks in and hires him to investigate her boyfriend’s death; his body was recently found by the police and has been declared a suicide but she believes it was murder. Abe has never worked a murder case before, his beat is usually helping lonely ladies find their cats, but he decides he might as well accept incoming revenue. As he hasn’t dropped his bad habits and doesn’t know what he’s doing, however, he gets into more trouble than he solves and eventually gets himself barred by the cops from even working on the case. While he and Nelisse are dragging themselves around town finding out about the deceased, including his ties to drug dealing and an affair with another woman, Abe starts to make connections between the present and the past that lead to a shocking revelation. Writer-director Evan Morgan has fashioned a genre hybrid that takes classic film noir structure (Nelisse is basically Mary Astor walking into Bogart’s office) and giving it contemporary angst, setting the vintage film genre’s style against the frustrated hopelessness of young, unemployed professionals and the disappearance of life in small towns. Brody is perfectly cast in the lead, his ability to be boyishly cute while behaving as an amoral adult has always been his brand and he has a great time playing the character’s descent into the void before bringing him back for the film’s surprise twist ending. What’s harder to make sense of is the film’s overall tone, its elements suggest sly, witty comedy, a number of silly elements end up having relevance to the mystery’s solution in a very clever way, but there’s also goofy, unrealistic humour (like his parents as played by Wendy Crewson and Jonathan Whittaker), all of it in a setting that feels like the 2007 Nancy Drew film but whose content is purely R-Rated. Then it’s all played at a slow, moody tone that isn’t funny, emphasizing slow reactions and monotoned dialogue delivery, and despite the fact that all loose ends are tied up neatly by the plot, the journey it takes through clues and connections feels random and unconvincing. By the end, all secrets are revealed and the mystery is solved but you the viewer are still left with a feeling of total confusion as to what is going on.