By Mary Francis Hill
October 16, 2003
Ratner’s first film a funny charmer

The best thing about a Ben Ratner movie is Ben Ratner. The Vancouver actor – and now, a director and writer with his first feature Moving Malcolm – has a kind of Paul Simon/Dustin Hoffman vulnerability and expressiveness, a quality that gobbled up the screen in Dirty and Last Wedding. Moving Malcolm marks the first time behind the camera as writer and director, and for the most part, it’s a success – funny, with clever dialogue, character details and a winning local cast. So much work might give the impression Ratner’s spreading himself too thin. On the contrary. This workhorse has made in Moving Malcolm a funny charmer that errs by trying to express too much.

Ratner plays Gene Maxwell, a nice, if soft-spined writer waaay down on his luck. His fiancée Elizabeth (Elizabeth Berkley of Rodger Dodger and Showgirls) left him –literally – at the altar, he’s unemployed, and he’s got nary a shoulder to lean on. His sparing liberal-Jewish parents (the hilarious Babz Chula and Jay Brazeau) are preparing to send Gene’s autistic sister Joela (Rebecca Harker) to a group home. Gene, immersed in his unemployment struggles, is still pining for Elizabeth – a curious thing, given her flaky character and mild nonchalance for his pain. So when Elizabeth asks her jilted lover to help her elderly, ailing father (John Neville) move to a new apartment, Gene says yes. Thanks to a gentle burgeoning relationship between Gene and Malcolm, Gene begins his not-so-drastic progress in the delicate art of letting go, finding his own worth amid strained relationships, dependencies, and hard times.

With his talented ensemble, Ratner has created a Woody Allen-esque mood. Gene himself is a self-deprecating, passive focus, self-reflective in the muck of chaos. Chula is vivacious as the bead-wearing, pill-popping neurotic mother whose greatest talent is her ability to simultaneously berate and love her paunchy academic husband (Brazeau). The misadventures of a severely autistic sister injects a jolt of family drama and goofy bumbling in the name of compassion.

The story juggles a paradoxical sense of chaos and slowness. There is an absence of dramatic turns an effect that at once makes the story feel realistic but demands moviegoers’ patience. Ratner maintains lively comedy in isolated scenes, often at the expense of tightening up the overall story. As entertaining as they all are, it’s easy to e overwhelmed at the various story lines. Gene’s friend is trying to snap him out of his fog. Gene struggles to find a job. And get his novel, dedicated to Elizabeth, published. And get her to read it and love him all over again. And help his parents deal with sending his sister to a group home. Oh yeah, and he’s helping Malcolm move.

That said, when the worst thing about a movie is that it provides too much entertainment, it says a hell of a lot about the prospects of the one person who conceived, wrote directed and starred in it. If a future can be predicted on one clever debut, it looks bright for Ratner.