By Di Golding

Mailed on May 01, 2014

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Dear Algonquin Provincial Park

Dear Algonquin,

With your iconic lakes, forests, and sunsets, you've long been an inspiration to Canadian artists. And it's easy to see why. You are a rarity: you have no bad side. But like the pretty assistant a magician uses to distract the audience from the illusion, in Algonquin, you too are underappreciated.

Your campsites, tributaries, and trails have surely seen their share of family conflict over the years. If trees could talk, no doubt they'd reveal generation upon generation of the sort of daddy issues that are born, explored, and resolved in Algonquin.

Jake Roulette is a meek man-child with unrealized dreams of being a writer. His father, Leif, a past-his-prime lothario and novelist, seeks his son's assistance in writing a book about you, Algonquin Park, the site of much Roulette family lore. When Leif passes away, Jake must come to terms with his father's past, including another son from another woman. How Jake reconciles this legacy will determine his own.

Despite your boreal presence, Algonquin isn't as earnestly Canadian as it one might imagine. In fact, director Jonathan Hayes seems more than a little bit influenced by American darling Wes Anderson; in this case, mannered to a fault. While the secrets and actions of the characters are obvious and telegraphed (and rather tame), there are a few moments of conflict and tension delivered by the charismatic Nicholas Campbell, who plays Leif as a loveable cad reminiscent of Crazy Heart's Bad Blake. He brings delicious unease to each scene, particularly those he shares with the quietly brilliant Sheila McCarthy as his estranged wife. It's unfortunate, then, that Mark Rendall plays Jake as though he was adopted. He has none of the spirit or spark of the other actors, and watching his character finally grow up was an exercise as annoying as hiking your trails with a rock in my boot.

What hope I have for the Roulette family is delivered by Iggy, the 'other son', played effortlessly by Michael Levinson. His portrayal of the mourning tween is so natural that it's easy to see why Jake can't resist bonding with him over a camping excursion to find a lost piece of Roulette history. It's also no surprise that Jake is attracted to Iggy's pretty mother, Carmen, although it's not so obvious what she sees in Jake (besides a plot complication). The men of Algonquin, it seems, get to have all the adventures. The female characters wait patiently and keep house, perhaps searching for dimensions to add to their non-existent backstories. It's a shame an actor like Sheila McCarthy isn't given more to work with. Like a country song about a woman scorned sung 'round the campfire, she at one point says, "I loved him except when I was hating him." Oh, those Roulette men! If only they just weren't so durned charming!

Luckily, you look fabulous! Cinematographer Catherine Lutes captures your ageless beauty and mystery with a light hand. No need to gild any lilies here. It's unfortunate, though, that the movie couldn't live up to the grandeur of it's namesake. Watching Algonquin, I felt like a petulant child forced into a canoe trip; bored for a long stretch, annoyed by the company, relieved when it was over, yet impressed by the stunning scenery. When asked how it was, I suspect I'd have the same begrudging reply as the kid: "It was okay, I guess."

Ever humbled by your majesty,


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