Snow Cake (2006) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Hampshire, James Allodi, Callum Keith Rennie
Director: Marc Evans
Screenplay: Angela Pell
Review published March 3, 2007
Set in Canada, Alan Rickman (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Love Actually) plays British ex-convict Alex Hughes, who picks up an eccentric young female hitchhiker, Vivienne (Hampshire, The Life Before This), while on a cross-country journey. Tragedy strikes when a freak accident results in Vivienne's death. Racked with guilt, Alex pays Vivienne's mother, Linda (Weaver, The Village), a visit to express his remorse, only to find that Linda is even more strange than her daughter is. Turns out that Linda is a very talkative autistic woman, and she implores Alex to stick around for the weekly trash pick-up that Vivienne would always perform. Unable to say no, Alex stays, and also helps with the funeral arrangements, while also trying to overcome his grief, as well as his own inner demons, while tending to Linda's curious idiosyncracies.
Solid performances by this veteran cast bolster this simple tale of learning to cope with life's downs regardless of the terrible circumstances. Written by first-timer Angela Pell, herself a mother of an autistic child, this story is told with authenticity and without heavy-handed drama, always staying true to the characters and their abilities (or inabilities) to learn from their situations and better themselves. Rickman and Weaver are excellent in their respective roles, with the latter spending much time with a real-life talkative autistic woman to learn the mannerisms and odd behavior characteristics. Pell claims to have written the part with Rickman in mind, and he does seem perfect for the sort of troubled and withdrawn man who has retreated into emotional disconnect with those around him, but one can get the sense that he does care inside -- he just needs the right person to help him.
Director Marc Evans, who had previously directed some modest thrillers, including the formulaic horror film My Little Eye, employs a much more subtle approach with this drama, though still visually appealing in capturing the snowy beauty of Canada's vast rural areas. He never makes the mistake of trying to step on the more interesting touches in Pell's script, which contains many interesting character quirks, such as Linda's attraction to eating snow, Vivienne's ability to read people for what they are, and neighbor Maggie's (Moss, Suspect Zero) desire to fill the void in her own life through filling those found in others. Even such mundane things like a game of Scrabble spins into one of the film's most profound moments.
Films about challenged people are generally a mixed bag, usually seen as Oscar-bait or just pandering to a cause for easy acceptance. Snow Cake overcomes all of this by never glossing over material, or in trying hard to have a huge emotional crisis to manipulate tears out of the audience; it has a simple story to tell, and it tells it quite well. While the subject matter might seem depressing and sad, the film is often funny and interesting much of the time, although it does provoke an emotion now and then -- genuinely earned, I might add.
Snow Cake is not the sort of film that will earn the highest accolades, but it will most likely increase one's respect for the performers, the creative forces behind it, and for those who are dealing with the difficulties of autism, whether in one's family or just as someone touched by a chance interaction while just passing through.
©2007 Vince Leo