The words above are spoken by the narrator against a black screen in Canadian filmmaker Michael McGowan’s “One Week”, diving distinctly into cliché before an image has even appeared. The question has been asked countless times before – whether it be in face of a serious illness or as a hypothetical scenario at a mundane dinner party. It is supposed to be treated seriously in this context but every decision McGowan makes as both writer and director make the question as flat as the Canadian plains that play setting to the ensuing drama. “One Week” may earn its place in Canadian film history for bringing the road trip to the beautiful Canadian countryside but the real journey is the one McGowan takes from a laughable starting point to a contemptible final destination. Oh, and the whole thing is cheekily narrated by Campbell Scott. Joy.
Ben Tyler (British Columbia born Joshua Jackson) has just been told that he is in stage four cancer and that he has a couple of years tops left as a maximum and a minimum that may not go past his doctor’s appointment. Oddly enough, this is where the laughs really get started. Let alone that I’m not entirely clear how he missed the first three stages of his cancer completely but check this subtle set up to the film’s road trip plot. Ben, upon hearing the news that he is going to die, runs out of his doctor’s office only to almost be hit by an oncoming vehicle. How unbelievably ironic is that? He could go at any time due to his cancer and then he almost dies a whole other way. It was mind-blowing. After having almost been hit by a car, Ben runs down a Toronto back alley until he can’t run from his inevitable death no more. Out of breath, he looks up and there stands an old man and his bike. That’s destiny, always stepping in to show you the path to your bliss. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway as the film itself seems to admire needlessness, he buys the bike.
Traveling by bike from Toronto through the plains of Saskatchewan, past Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and finishing on the shores of a beach in Vancouver is certainly scenic. It is also rarely seen on film in such grandeur and with such admiration on the part of the filmmaker. Still, one can overdo it. As a Canadian who loves this country, it is even a little much for me to take when the hero rolls up the rim on his Tim Horton’s coffee cup to reveal the direction he should travel in and settles into a motel along the way to smoke a joint with Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. It’s highly doubtful to me that anyone who has never spent any significant amount of time in Canada would have any idea what my last sentence meant and that’s precisely the point. While the film may speak directly to Canadians, it says very little to any other audience about the country it is supposedly so proud of outside of a few clichés set to some very pretty pictures.
What it does say outside of trying to glorify Canadiana, and thus bringing the film from laughable formula to practically despicable, is said through Ben’s soul search. His perspective is the film’s and it is distinctly male in its stubbornness and needs. Apparently, facing the possibility of death amounts to mostly needing to find someone who isn’t your girlfriend to have sex with. Given that his girlfriend (Liane Balaban, who, along with Jackson, provides “One Week” with its most endearing moments) is sitting at home the whole time Ben is out for his joy ride, it certainly does nothing to bring any sympathy to Ben. As he is dying, you’d think sympathy would be easy to inspire but instead, McGowan’s script goes the route of Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild”, honoring selfishness and calling it following one’s own true path in spite of society. If I were waiting for Ben at home, I would have probably written him off before he even reached the Rockies. Watching him go through it all though and neglect everything that made his pathetic life half livable, I wished a little near the end that he would just pull over to the side of the road and die already.
Review by Joseph Bélanger