By Marc Glassman
Deborah Chow, director and writer
Starring: Zach Braff (Henry), Isabelle Blais (Nathalie), Patrick Labbé (Michel), Julian Lo
Henry, an American hipster living illegally in Montreal, panics when he mistakenly hits Nathalie, a pregnant Quebecoise, while driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Overcome with guilt, he calls the police to take Nathalie to a local hospital and then tries to find out what happened to her. When he finds out the truth—that she’s lost the baby but is still carrying the fetus until she’s recovered enough to have an operation—Henry decides to be her Guardian Angel.
Deborah Chow’s first feature could have been unbearably melodramatic but the articulate Anglo-Asian-Canadian director has triumphed, making a languorous, charming character study of characters in search of meaning and redemption in their lives.
While Nathalie’s husband (Patrick Labbé) can’t deal with the tragic death of their unborn child, she tries to get on with life. Henry connects with her by defending Nathalie from a Yuppie couple who insult her for drinking a glass of wine at a local Montreal bistro. Seems she might be hurting her (dead) baby.
Sparks fly between the duo, who are well played by American TV (Scrubs) and Indie film (Garden State) star Zach Braff and the Quebecoise film (Barbarian Invasions) and stage (Masque winner) actress and singer (Caiman Fu) Isabelle Blais. Opposites do attract each other.
Chow is wonderful at evoking the bohemian appeal of Montreal’s Mile End and Plateau districts, where Henry and Nathalie live. She’s succeeded in making a multi-cultural city full of Asians and Haitians (as well as Anglos and Quebec’s “pur laine” population) come alive.
Henry, too, comes alive, moving from unassuming drug dealer to a responsible adult—which forces Nathalie to respond to his declarations of love.
High Cost of Living has problems in maintaining its tone, which moves from comic to tragic continuously. But Chow has made a unique first feature—it was an award winner at TIFF last fall—about a very Odd Couple.