The High Cost Of Living received its world premiere at the September 15th Toronto International Film Festival screening and lead actor Zach Braff (best known as the star of television's Scrubs) was in attendance, along with French Canadian female lead Isabelle Blais, and director Deborah Chow (who also wrote the screenplay for the film, which is her first feature). Braff sat just across the aisle from me, about ten feet away, so I was hoping to glean some interesting insight from watching an actor view one of their performances for the first time onscreen (the finishing touches had just been put on the movie in the last couple of weeks). The actor played it cool throughout, however, with legs crossed and sticking out in the aisle. The audience's polite but unenthusiastic applause at the film's conclusion only reinforced what Braff must have been thinking as he watched the movie unfold: it was a noble effort with some good performances, but certainly isn't destined to be a standout piece of work on his resume.
Braff plays Henry, a Montreal-based low-rent pharmaceutical drug peddler. Our introduction to Henry through an opening montage reveals that he keeps bad company (is there any other kind for a drug dealer?) and likes to party, which leads to an accident one night where Henry hits a woman who is eight months pregnant with his car and then leaves the scene in a panic. The woman, Nathalie (played by Blais), loses the baby and her emotional trauma as she struggles to accept the loss is compounded by a temporary inability to undergo surgery to deliver the stillborn child, due to the injuries she herself suffered. It's a clever (and cruel) plot point, making Nathalie literally carry around her expired, tragic burden, and Blais uses it to great effect. Henry, mortified at his actions, insinuates his way into Nathalie's life, a feat made easier by Nathalie's marital difficulties with a workaholic, distant husband. Henry's motivations are rooted in pure guilt, but he soon finds himself developing true feelings for his unwitting victim. Unfortunately, the pair's relationship, which forms the main basis of the movie, strains credulity. The uninspired ending only adds to the film's overall disappointing results.
Looking to the positives, the two leads deliver fine performances, particularly Blais. Braff, who was looking for a rough-around-the-edges, unsympathetic character to play, proves he can tackle such a role, and his name on the project will garner it a little more attention than a Canadian low budget indie, set in Montreal, with a fair amount of French subtitles, would have otherwise received.
* TIFF's Skyy Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film was presented to Chow for The High Cost Of Living, which includes a $15,000 prize. When she accepted the award, the director announced she would not be returning to her job at Starbucks.