Still courtesy of TIFF.
A Beginner’s Guide to Endings
Niagara Falls is a particularly fitting setting for A Beginner’s Guide to Endings, whose impressive talent lineup includes names from both sides of the border. The Canadian comedy from Citizen Duane scribe Jonathan Sobol mixes some notable American names (Harvey Keitel, Scott Caan, J.K. Simmons) with a crack team of homegrown celebs (Tricia Helfer, Paulo Costanzo, Jason Jones, Wendy Crewson), generally to hilarious results. If not for the occasional flash of red and white in the background, one would be hard pressed to tell on which side of the Falls the story was actually set.
When five brothers return to their hometown to deal with the passing of their inveterate gambler of a father (Keitel), they’re in for a shock—due to one of their father’s many bad decisions, three of them are left with only a year to live. Counselled by their beleaguered priest uncle (Simmons), the three eldest cope in their own respective and oft hilarious ways. Caan and Costanzo don’t stray far from their comfort zones as gregarious, philandering Cal and responsible, buttoned-down Jacob respectively, but Jones trades in his usual Daily Show suit and tie for a cowboy hat and trucker ‘stache as eldest Nuts, a gravel-voiced, hot-tempered pugilist.
Sobol enhances the snappy pacing of his script with a repertoire of clever editing conventions, from multi-panelled screens to a sardonic overlay of arrows and graphs. A strong undercurrent of humour keeps the story from being bogged down by its otherwise relatable reflections on brotherhood, father issues, and mortality, all carried by excellent performances from the varied cast. Unfortunately, Sobol’s tonal house of cards comes crashing down at the climax, when the story jumps the shark—or, more literally, the Falls.
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