By Ken Eisner
Ratner is Gene, a would-be writer and self-described "grief-seeking missile" whose basic material is drawn from a disastrous affair with a starlet now moved on to bigger things, according to her. Elizabeth Berkley is Liz, the gangly gal who haunts his nights and then fills his days, too, by badgering him into helping her infirm father, Malcolm, switch digs. Gene has been halfheartedly sending his novel, Fear Knot, to publishers, but mainly he wants Liz to read it. Maybe that's why he ends up spending hours in the old man's dank, overstuffed basement pad, sorting through knickknacks and unfinished business.
The fledgling thespian, meanwhile, is in smoke-filled Prague, shooting what she says is an art film and carrying on a meaningless affair with a local stuntman, played by Malcolm designer Michael Tiernan. Gene sorta figures that part out, but he seems more upset that she hasn't read the manuscript he sent her.
Once the old guy moved, Malcolm's new landlady (Toronto stage veteran Linda Sorensen) rekindles his interest in photography and more. But whatever's happening, Gene is frequently distracted by the ongoing meshugaas at his parents' house. Dad (Jay Brazeau) is a hulking academic forever expressing disappointment at his son's lack of achievement and generally fighting with his wife (Babz Chula), a great lady who somehow devolved into a expert pill popper. What keeps this battling clan together is concern for Gene's sister (cast standout Rebecca Harker), an autistic prone to wandering away from, and toward, trouble.
The family background here actually yields more warmth and offbeat humour than does the central nonromance. But these elements could have been pushed a bit further, both for farce and drama. Some side characters feel a bit underexplained, notably Gene's maniacally macho buddy who only shows up to stir the pot, although rising star Nicholas Lea has enough fun with this small part to make it worthwhile. More time could have been spent with Neville's character too, and his story feels slightly rushed.
Cinematographer Gregory Middleton's smooth use of colours in offbeat Vancouver locations add the right touch of everyday absurdity, although the film's visuals don't have a particularly memorable style. Its soundtrack does, though, thanks to a large number of original alt-rock tunes that, despite being by different performers, blend seamlessly to underscore thornier feelings raised by the script. The nod to Simon & Garfunkel in the opening sequence, which resembles The Graduate's finish, is--like Malcolm in general--clever without being pushy about it.