Niagara Motel
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Gary Yates
scr George F Walker, Dani Romain
with Anna Friel, Wendy Crewson, Craig Ferguson, Kevin Pollak, Caroline Dhavernas, Kristen Holden-Reid, Peter Keleghan, Tom Barnett, Catherine Fitch, Janet-Laine Green, Krista Bridges, Normand Daneau
release UK 11.Nov.05,
Can 24.Mar.06
05/Canada 1h30

A very bad idea: Friel

crewson ferguson pollak


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Niagara Motel There's a sparky charm to this multi-strand black comedy about tangled romance in the land of the honeymoon, Niagara Falls. But as a film, it never quite comes together into anything very meaningful.

The characters circle around each other in a seedy motel managed by a grieving young widower (Ferguson). In the honeymoon suite, Lily and Henry (Crewson and Keleghan) are actually homeless, desperate for work and barely able to stand each other. While Henry contemplates jumping over the falls, Lily learns from the hooker (Bridges) next door. Pregnant waitress Loretta (Dhavernas) is balancing two proposals: from a pornographer (Pollak) and a squeaky-clean Mormon (Barnett). And Denise and RJ (Friel and Holden-Reid) are just trying to stay straight enough to get their baby back from a social worker (Green).

With an involving pace and a sharp sense of bleak wit, the film is extremely watchable, even though it's a bit fragmented and unfocussed. Besides the general relationship theme, nothing connects the three main plot strands, which leaves the film feeling superficial even as it digs in and examines several fairly serious issues. It's the problem of subtext: nothing is happening here beyond what we see on screen.

That said, the actors create vivid characters. Friel is especially good as the teetering-on-the-brink Denise, while Crewson gets the most soul-searching scenes as the abandoned-then-resolute Lily. Each character is a bundle of intriguing contradictions--depressed and clingy, then proactive and hopeful--riding wave after wave of emotion. So even if it doesn't quite hold together on the larger scale, the small stories are both compelling and entertaining.

The comedy comes mostly in the absurdity of the interaction--the way people seem to always get it wrong when dealing with each other. Some of this is amusingly observant, while other plotlines feel contrived and over-reliant on coincidence or actual miracles. Combined with a macabre emphasis on death, this uneven tone makes the film rather difficult to like. Fortunately, there are enough moments of dark humour and raw emotion to make it just about worth the effort.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.Aug.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Niagara Motel Julie Meyer, Ottawa: 4/5 "What a ride! We laughed and cringed, sometimes in the same moments as the characters bounced around Niagara Falls, sinking deeper into trouble. But it's all done with a keen sense of humour (even topics such as suicide and prostitution) which makes for a strangely funny and compelling film. Anna Friel was fantastic as a former drug-addicted prostitute. My favourite character was Philly, the drunk caretaker/gravedigger played by Craig Ferguson (loved his big sad eyes). Highly recommended." (17.Sep.05)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall