Starring Zach Braff and Isabelle Blais. Rated PG.
The premise of this low-budget film, shot in Montreal with an eye for chilly winter details, is so outrageous that a reviewer has to think twice about including it. And yet this tale could not have been set in motion unless Henry (Garden State’s Zach Braff), an amiable but essentially rootless grifter, had hit a pregnant woman with his car and fled the scene.
Henry is not a bad guy, but he has no work visa and his car is a drugstore on wheels. So the best he can do is check up on the woman, who is named Nathalie (and played by the excellent Isabelle Blais, well known in Quebec) and already having troubles in her failing marriage to a remote workaholic (Patrick Labbé, one of Les Boys). Soon, his investigation grows a tad more worrisome, causing some possible trouble for a teenage Chinatown neighbour (the pleasantly goofy Julian Lo) and then for himself when he keeps crossing paths with the traumatized woman.
That’s where things get a little hard to swallow, at least for some viewers. First-time writer-director Deborah Chow, an Ontarian who lived some years in Montreal, does an impressive job (almost entirely in English) showing us the darker byways of her adopted city. The High Cost of Living doesn’t fetishize grunge the way Biutiful did, but Braff makes a good lightweight Javier Bardem—grubby in leathers you can almost smell—even if his instincts keep leading him toward comic twists that don’t quite happen.
The film’s rather generic title suggests a certain lack of focus, and, indeed, some of Chow’s side stories are more compelling at times than the main story. The wary rapprochement between immigrants depicted here could get its own movie.