By Glen Schaefer
October 17, 2003
Film offers deft moments of genuine humanity
From left:
Rebecca Harker as Jolea, Jay Brazeau as George, Benjamin Ratner as Gene Maxwell and Babz Chula as Gisha.

Ratner says shooting around his parents' home was 'very surreal.'
Benjamin Ratner is writer, director and actor in his comic romance, Moving Malcolm.

Echoes of The Graduate and mid-1970s Woody Allen ring through some leafy Vancouver scenery in the home-grown comic romance Moving Malcolm.

But actor Benjamin Ratner, making his writing-directing debut with the help of some talented friends, spins something of his own from the story of a young writer jilted on his wedding day.

After his B-actress bride-to-be (Elizabeth Berkley) ducks out of the service for a smoke and doesn't come back, Gene Maxwell (Ratner) spends the next year writing a tortured novel.

Square-jawed Nicholas Lea (Krycek on The X-Files) gets to chew on some tasty comic bits as Gene's best friend Herbert, a dance instructor who spends weekends playing Sgt. Rock in paint-ball war games and evenings sneaking into Gene's apartment to watch his home-made porn videos.

Jay Brazeau and Babz Chula fill up the screen as Gene's parents, two outsized personalities who offer post-breakup therapy through food (mom) and loud, unsolicited advice (dad). Ratner and his co-stars paint that family life with a mixture of sight gags and heart, aided hugely by Rebecca Harker's intuitive portrayal of Gene's autistic younger sister.

Amid all this, ex-fiancée Liz comes back into Gene's life with a problem: she's heading to Prague to make a movie and her aged father (John Neville) needs a hand moving into a new apartment. Can Gene help him move?

As Liz pursues low-rent stardom on a Czech movie set, Gene learns something about himself, life and the joys of driving late at night, naked, from her father. Neville brings a courtly -- but appropriately tattered -- grace to this movie's Malcolm.

Ratner the actor has an appealing everyman charm as the conflicted soul amid all these eccentrics, while Ratner the writer-director knows when to pull back from the larger-than-life character quirks to alight on deft moments of genuine humanity.

"I was too old. I took too many pills," Chula as Gene's mother says simply to her son, watching her daughter playing by a duck pond on her 19th birthday.

Ratner aims both to charm and to touch and mostly hits the mark on both.