Tuesday, 1 December 2015

THE SABBATICAL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Schlubs n' Babes @Whistler Film Festival 2015

The Sabbatical (2015)
Dir. Brian Stockton
Scr. Stockton, Whittingham
Starring: James Whittingham, Laura Abramsen, Bernadette Mullen,
Mike Gill, Candy Fox, Paul-Gui Crapeau, Kevin Allardyce

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Be honest. You love comedies about schlubs who get a new lease on life when they nab themselves a hot filly, don't you? Virtually every Woody Allen comedy falls into this hallowed category as do several Judd Apatow pictures. In contemporary movies, the schlubs are usually portrayed by the likes of Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Adam Sandler, John C. Reilly or Kevin James (amongst many other fine examples of schlubs who get hot babes). The babes are oft-played by the babe-o-licious likes of Mila Kunis, Amy Adams, Katherine Heigl, Drew Barrymore and Megan Fox.

My personal meter for schlub/babe comedies is the aforementioned Woody Allen's magnificent Whatever Works, a movie that inspired many critics and audiences to vomit over the pairing of Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood, but for me, offered plenty of knee-slappers and the occasional stiffie.

But, only in the movies, you say?

There always seems to be a backlash against such pairings in films as if they're not at all realistic. Let me let you in on something, they're a lot more common in real life than people will admit to.

The math is simple.

Women are more mature then men and older men offer an element of intellect/experience that younger men are woefully unable to provide to many younger women. This is especially common in the halls of academia where one might be more likely to find individuals endowed with exceptional brains on both sides of the equation.

If for some reason, these assertions offend you, I pity you. It's only because you haven't personally experienced the joys of schlub-babe romance.

A new gunslinger has ridden his horsy into Schlub Babe Movie Town packing mega-six-shooters fully loaded with this great cinematic tradition. Brian Stockton's very funny feature film The Sabbatical even manages to take a few steps into, shall we say, "mature" territory. Closer to stories where schlub-babe relationships remain unrequited, is not unlike any Woody Allen comedy sans boinking, and then replaced with the mind-matched intercourse on display in such schlub-babe masterworks as Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation.

The biggest distinction of all is that Stockton's film is not set against the backdrop of New York or Tokyo or anything even remotely considered smoothly urbane, but rather in the Canadian prairie city of Regina. Comparing Regina to a similar Canadian city, Winnipeg, a friend of mine nailed the town perfectly: "Well," he postulated, "Winnipeg, unlike Regina, has at least one of everything."

It is into this city of prairie splendour, drab architecture, comfy suburban bungalows, alternating skies of blue and grey, a distinctive car-culture which renders public transit a choice only for the biggest losers and, of course, snow for 10 months of the year, we are introduced to one of the biggest schlubs in recent movie memory. James Pittman (Co-writer of The Sabbatical) is a fine arts professor at the illustrious University of Regina.

I'm not making this up.

There really is a University of Regina.

With a successful, best-selling, critically acclaimed street photography book under his belt, you'd think our schlub was set with a job for life. Alas, with budget cuts, James is warned he better have a new book by the end of his sabbatical since he hasn't published anything since his last hefty high-toned coffee table tome hit the stalls over a decade ago. So now, instead of a whole year of loafing, he might actually have to do some work to save his job.

To make matters worse, his wife Jillian (Bernadette Mullen) is a scientist who is on the verge of launching her breakthrough discovery - reproduction without men. She even insists hubby get sterilized, going so far to make the appointment for him and constantly reminding James when he'll be having his vasectomy. To top it all off, his rankings on the fame-meter have plunged, whilst his wifey is a fame-meter shooting star. Adding insult to injury, he's misdiagnosed as being prone to dizzy spells. Because of this, his drivers licence is confiscated until he's successfully completed a battery of tests.

One afternoon, feeling schlubier than he's ever felt in his life, James half-heartedly wanders around taking pictures until he spies something truly inspirational. He aims, shoots and gets a great shot of Lucy (Laura Abramsen) a gorgeous babe who registers an expression of melancholic sexiness.

Needless to say, the two start chatting and it's like they've known each other their whole life. Quips fly like a 30s/40s romantic comedy and when James hires the lovely, charming Lucy to be his personal driver, it seems like a match made in heaven. Of course, she has a boyfriend who's moving in with her and he's married.

Ah, details.

Their courtship is truly chaste, but also so delightful that we're waiting for him to dump his too-famous wife and for Lucy to turf the goofy, kind-hearted, but clear intellectual inferior to James. Until that can happen (if it can happen), we're treated to one hilarious set piece after another including James meeting his Fine Art rival, a blind photographer and engaging in a joyous round of joining some young people int a healthy round of shooting fireworks off - at each other.

However, fun as this all is, the potential of the platonic possibly moving well beyond that keeps gently roiling. I must remind you, however, that this is a Canadian comedy, and as such, I can't promise you more than bittersweet melancholia which, in and of itself, is truly moving and satisfying within the context of the film.

Conflict indeed exists in The Sabbatical, but it's incredibly gentle and low key. In fact, things never go as far as anyone in the film imagined they would, but we, as an audience, delightfully discover that in Canada, as in life, what we really want and need is hidden under the most delicate veneer.

And maybe, just maybe, if we, like our schlub James, settle for something, perhaps even settle for the forest we can't quite see for the trees, then happiness, true happiness is but a hop, skip and a jump away.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three-and-a-half Stars

The Sabbatical has its world premiere at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival and will make its Regina Premiere on December 8, 2015