Whistler Film Festival: Drinkwater bathes in the beauty of the Okanagan and the performances of B.C. actors

Move over, My American Cousin—there's a new paean to Penticton

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      Cinematically, the City of Penticton was defined for a generation by My American Cousin, Sandy Wilson's charming 1985 period piece about a preteen girl's desire to be taken seriously.

      Now, there's a new endearing film, also set in the same scenic Okanagan community, that offers a memorable 21st-century ode to Canadiana.

      Drinkwater stars Vancouver actors Daniel Doheny (Adventures in Public School) and Louriza Tronco (The Order) as two high-school students, Mike and Wallace, each coping with difficult circumstances.

      Mike's father, Hank Drinkwater (played brilliantly by Will & Grace's Eric McCormack), is a likable, self-centred loser intent on ripping off an insurance company by faking an injury; Wallace is living with her grandparents after a family tragedy in Massachusetts.

      The storyline won't surprise anyone who's seen these boy-meets-girl films so many times before. Mike is a mess. Wallace helps ground him. Yet Mike, like his dad, is too caught up in his own world to notice, falling instead for the willowy figure skater (Jana Benoit) who's already attached to the super-jock (Jordan Burtchett) in school.

      The plot is what it is—do we really need another movie with a game of dodgeball inserted into a script? But what stands out is some of the performances, most notably in McCormack's nuanced yet still riotously entertaining performance as Hank and in one heartbreaking scene with Tronco and her grandfather, played by talented veteran actor Vincent Cheng.

      Burtchett pulls off the role of school bully with aplomb and Doheny's bendable body serves up several amusing moments, including in a Tim Hortons drive-through and another time during the playing "Love Shack" by the B-52's.

      Hank Drinkwater (played by Eric McCormack) isn't too concerned with abiding by the rules, which creates some challenges for his son Mike (Daniel Doheny).

      Director Stephen S. Campanelli (Indian Horse) and writers Luke Fraser and Edward McDonald also deliver plenty of other laughs along with some old-fashioned Canadian music—the type of stuff that folks in Penticton would cherish, like Loverboy's "Turn Me Loose", Corey Hart's "Never Surrender", and the legendary Doug and the Slugs' "Day by Day". 

      Campanelli has been a camera operator for many Clint Eastwood films, including the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River. And his dexterity with imagery is not only on display in many of the scenes, but also in some of the most imaginative opening credits that anyone will ever see.

      Toss in some ice hockey, a shrine to Wayne Gretzky, a few Canadian flags, and a long-distance race through the glorious Okanagan countryside between Canadians and Americans and you've got the makings of a movie to stir up national pride across the country.

      Unlike Million Dollar BabyDrinkwater is not going to win best picture at the Oscars. But it will provide viewers with a couple of hours of solid entertainment and magnificent visuals.

      It also just might give the City of Penticton a much-needed boost to its tourism industry. All things considered, that's quite an accomplishment in the midst of a pandemic.

      The Whistler Film Festival is presenting in-screening theatre shows of Drinkwater at 7 p.m. on December 3 and 12:30 p.m. on December 5. It's also presenting its Trailblazer Award to Eric McCormack, who will join George Stroumboulopoulos in conversation at 5:15 p.m. on December 3 at the Maury Young Arts Centre. The festival will present Drinkwater online from December 13 to December 31. See the entire schedule of films here.