When I was in my late teens and early 20s, it seemed that almost every novel I read and many of the movies I saw (excepting, naturally, the slasher flicks and most of the teen sex comedies) left me feeling that I’d learned some valuable life lesson or gained a newfound insight into the nature of existence. I’d close the book or walk out of the theater convinced that I had a whole new outlook, that things were going to be different from then on. But as I get older and more jaded, those pop-culture epiphanies get harder and harder to come by — I’ve listened to “New Slang” a hell of a lot of times, and enjoyed it, but, pace Natalie Portman, it hasn’t really changed my life.
So it was with considerable surprise that I walked out of Everything’s Gone Green having actually been persuaded by the film to make some changes, and with even more surprise that I actually found myself following through on those plans (we’re still in the early stages here — check back with me in a couple of months and we’ll know how it all worked out). Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised, though, since Douglas Coupland, who was responsible for several of those late-adolescent epiphanies, wrote the screenplay for Everything’s Gone Green (the title comes from a New Order song and refers to money — I think — and not environmentalism, as one might assume). A connoisseur of youthful anomie, Coupland (Generation X, Microserfs, Hey Nostradamus!) has written about most known varieties of teen and twentysomthing angst, always in a way that remains persuasive despite frequent hyperbole.
Here, in his first screenplay, Coupland’s protagonist is 29-year-old Ryan (Paulo Costanzo), a Vancouverite who exhibits all the ironic enthusiasms and low expectations we’ve come to expect of a Coupland protagonist. But when his girlfriend dumps him for his lack of ambition on the same day that his boss fires him for his lack of enthusiasm, Ryan realizes that ironic disengagement may not be the sound life strategy he’d assumed it would. He’s pushing 30 and his life is going nowhere; he has to admit to himself that he’s become a loser.
Ryan’s problem then becomes not just how to not be a loser but how to figure out what that means. His father (Tom Butler) has just been fired from his job too, after decades of loyal service and total frustration, and Ryan certainly doesn’t want to go down that path. His best friend Spike (Gordon Michael Woolvett) appears to be happy running his small milk distributorship, but not everything there is as it seems. His brother Kevin (Peter Kelamis) is a successful realtor and developer, but Ryan can’t abide his anything-for-a-buck attitude, though he will accept the stunning penthouse apartment Kevin offers in exchange for him being the superintendent of the empty building it’s in. And when Ryan lands a new job working for provincial lottery, he sees that even immense wealth is often less a guarantee of happiness than an obstacle to it.
Ryan’s not certain of anything in his life until a chance encounter brings him together with a beautiful woman named Ming (Steph Song), whom he certainly wants to get to know better. She’s smart and funny and seems comfortable in her own skin in a way that Ryan can’t quite imagine himself feeling, but like a lot of beautiful, intelligent women, Ming has an inexplicable asshole boyfriend, Bryce (JR Bourne), whose official job is golf-course designer but who has his hand in a number of other shady dealings. Bryce first sees Ryan as a threat to his relationship with Ming, but later he realizes that Ryan could be an asset, and he pulls him into one of his criminal enterprises.
In outline, EGG is a romantic comedy with a standard genre plot — good guy tries to win good girl away from bad guy — but at its center, it’s really about a guy trying to figure out how to live in an ethical way even though everyone around him is corrupt. Ryan is a good guy in that he means no one any harm, but he’s capable of being seduced by the allure of money and fancy possessions, and he’s morally elastic enough to rationalize compromising his own sense of right and wrong. In short, he’s like most of us, and the kind of decisions he must make, between doing the expedient thing and doing what he knows to be right, are like decisions most of us have faced.
EGG’s director, Paul Fox (no relation), is an experienced director of Canadian television series and several short films, here helming only his second feature. It’s an assured, competent piece of work, but his approach is dry and somewhat removed, so that the film is initially a bit difficult to get into, but it rewards your patience with a thoughtful examination of what it takes to be the kind of person who can look himself in the mirror and like what he sees. I don’t want to overstate the film’s seriousness or its depth, because it’s never pedantic, nor does it attempt to present a full ethical treatise or say anything terribly original. It’s just a sweet, funny little movie that explores some real issues and just might make you think about some things in a new light, as it did me. Maybe it won’t change your life, but it beats Wincing the Night Away.
No, really. I found that album disappointing.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Everything's Gone Green / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | April 27, 2007 | Comments ()