TIFF Report: Everything's Gone Green Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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[TIFF info page here.]

The transition from successful novelist to screenwriter is one fraught with danger, the vast majority of novelists who try their hand at screenwriting proving simply unable to grasp the different demands of this very different medium. For an example check the extensive filmography of Stephen King movies: the bad adaptations invariably come from King’s own pen, the good ones from dedicated screenwriters. So when word came that Canadian literary darling Douglas Coupland had a script in production it was met with a mixture of excitement and fear. On the one hand, after several false starts, Coupland was coming to the big screen! On the other hand most of what makes Coupland so memorable is purely literary – internal monologues, quirky asides, etc – and difficult to translate to the screen.

Coupland gets around these issues in three ways. First, rather than adapting an already existing work he has created here an entirely new piece, thereby sparing the film comparison to an earlier incarnation. Second, thanks to his lesser known but no less active work as a visual artist he is abundantly aware of the different requirements and demands of film – a primarily visual medium – as compared to the written word. And, finally, in director Paul Fox (The Dark Hours) Coupland has teamed with a collaborator who not only understands how to work a camera but who also very clearly understands what makes Coupland himself go.

The verdict? Not only is Everything’s Gone Green a more than worthy entry into the Coupland canon but it stands as a damn fine film in its own right, smart, funny and beautifully executed. It is also – and I’m certain this is an important factor for its creators – an explicitly Canadian piece of work that is nonetheless entirely free of the self conscious Can-Con elements that have crippled most of this country’s film output for decades.

Paulo Costanzo stars as Ryan, an unmotivated slacker trapped in a wage-slave cubicle job as he nears the end of his twenties. Over the span of twenty four hours Ryan’s girlfriend moves him out, he loses his job for writing depressingly bad poetry on company time, and learns that his father has also been fired from his job of twenty five years and is now caught up in an aloe product pyramid scam. Ryan is at a loss, cut adrift, until a radio report of a dead whale washed up on a Vancouver beach leads to a chance encounter with a beautiful set dresser for movies of the week presents him with something in his life that he actually wants.

As with all of Coupland’s key work Everything’s Gone Green is essentially a film about identity: what is it and how do we find it in a world where all of the traditional means we used to define ourselves have disappeared or become critically unstable? When religion is absent, work is meaningless and family is in constant flux where do we find the standard by which to measure ourselves? Ryan drifts through a world of hollow possibilities – body obsession, steroid use, online porn, grow ops, lottery winnings, real estate scams, cubicle jobs, yakuza money laundering schemes – none of which seem to offer any sort of clue who he is, who he might be, or what he really wants of his life.

This sort of film lives or dies with its lead character and Paulo Costanzo – co-star of the less than great and now mercifully cancelled Joey – is an absolutely perfect choice in the lead. He fits the Coupland milieu perfectly projecting a good natured, over educated, befuddlement at life. He is smart, funny, likable, completely lost, and more than a little bit blind to his own flaws. Dialogue has always been one of Coupland’s strengths and it crackles here with casual wit, pop culture observation and biting social commentary but it is Costanzo’s delivery and presence that takes what could have been either clinically abstract critique or overly self conscious indie kid posing and gives it a fully human soul.

Just as Costanzo brings a typically Coupland lead character to life director Paul Fox captures the visual sense of Coupland’s romanticized Vancouver flawlessly. The camera drifts effortlessly capturing Coupland’s dry sense of whimsy and the sense that there just may be something larger than us out there somewhere. The beached whale scene, in particular, is simply outstanding with lighter touches – alien extras from random film productions roam in and out of frame seemingly at will, a rolling palm tree appears regularly shifting from place to place to dress the city as California – scattered throughout. Fox also does a fantastic job of capturing Vancouver on screen. Despite doubling for other locations constantly on film and television Canada’s most beautiful city seldom appears on screen as itself and it has never looked as good as it does here, Fox capturing the bridges, the ocean, the dense woodlands and the perpetually mist enshrouded mountains with grace and ease. Throw in a smart edit job and a fantastic soundtrack – an absolute must if Coupland is to make it to the screen intact – and Fox succeeds on all fronts.

As strong as this film is, however, it is not without its flaws, Coupland on film sharing the most common weakness with Coupland on the printed page, that being the ending. Throughout his writing career Coupland has shown a tendency to take his characters through a crisis point and then, just as they make it to the other side, just sort of stop. Sometime it works, leaving the reader with a potent image and a sense of hope, and sometimes it doesn’t, simply leaving things feeling a little too neat and simple. The ending here is neither his best nor his worst, but it definitely falls on the ‘too clean’ end of the spectrum. Though there is a point being made here – and a good one, at that – it comes a little too quickly, a little too easily, and not quite clearly enough. Many will likely leave the theater feeling as though Ryan has ended up back exactly where he started which is not at all the case and with just a little bit of tweaking the underlying point here could have been made much clearer.

Coupland is justifiably hailed as a national treasure here in Canada, his work capturing much of what is best about this country. With any luck his name will be enough to draw Everything’s Gone Green the audience it deserves, the same audience that has so vigorously embraced the likes of Sofia Coppola, and carry this out to the masses, securing Coupland, Fox, Costanzo and Song a great deal more work on the big screen. God knows they deserve it.

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More about Everything's Gone Green

trishSeptember 13, 2006 9:48 PM

Any news of when this will be out in the U.S.?

I can't wait to see it!

Todd BrownSeptember 15, 2006 8:32 AM

The can-con reference is primarily pointed at the funding guidelines laid down by Telefilm Canada and other funding bodies. They seem to be generally getting more of a clue now, but their definitions of what makes a film 'Canadian enough' are entirely arbitrary and generally pretty ridiculous and have really limited the types of films the industry has been able to make if they want access to that sort of funding. Yes, they're easing up now and becoming more accomodating of more commercially oriented film but for decades its been serious art film or nothing. Which is why Jeremy Podeswa now works for HBO, Aaron Woodley is shooting a Mariah Carey vanity project, etc etc. They can't get the funding to do the work they're interested in here, so they're forced to go south to get paying work. I think getting more commercial production companies into the game (Radke with this film, Anagram with Fido) could really help the industry here, assuming they can find decent distribution, because as it stands right now unless you're Cronenberg, Egoyan or someone funding your movies through a Hollywood studio if you're English Canadian aint nobody in the country going to see your film beyond a handful in Toronto and Vancouver, and those only if they do the legwork to educate themselves because there aint anybody with the budget to properly promote things.

As for Van being on screen, name another feature from the past five years that used it as itself. But yeah, it's so beautiful out there that it doesn't really take a genius to make it look good. Fox has some fantastic shots of the bridges and mountains ... made me all wistful for the time I spent out there ...

Don't get me wrong, I know there's a lot of talent produced here, but our industry is a shambles.

DaveOctober 17, 2006 8:51 PM

Saw this in Pusan and enjoyed it. Felt much stronger than Little Miss Sunshine, and should definitely please all Coupland fans.

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TougiNovember 8, 2006 9:06 AM

I can't say too much about the movie, since I haven't seen it (I'm stuck waiting for a wider theatrical release, which I'm sure is unfortunately unlikely, or a DVD). I don't have much to say regarding the review, except that I find that Coupland endings, while they seem weak at first, may have a hidden depth and brilliance about them which is exceedingly difficult to grasp but worth the effort.

No, the reason I'm here is that I am a huge fan of Douglas Coupland, but have never found any means of contacting him. I've looked around his fantastic Website (http://www.coupland.com), but not found an e-mail address, so I thought that since he posted a link to this review, a message I post here might makes its way back. That message is quite simple: Thanks. I like your visual artwork, so thanks for making that. I like your books, so thanks for writing those. If I see this Everything's Gone Green movie, I suspect there's a good chance I'll like it too, and I'll have to thank you for that. I have to admit that I've only read two of your books and that I think Microserfs is the best book ever, but that a statement which requires a bit of clarification. I first discovered Microserfs, maybe, four years ago and have read it probably around fifteen times all the way through and flip through short segments now and then. Even considering this obsessiveness, I still find something new each time, as well as new interpretations based on what's happened in my life between readings. It's an interesting thing. It is the blanket to my Linus - it is my comfort book. This is simply a matter of my personality. I'm the type who puts an album of even a single song on repeat and listens for hours. There may be a time in the future when I move on to another book, but Microserfs will always be important for me. I read Generation X two or three years ago, but I wasn't ready for it. Now that most of Microserfs resides within my memory, I think I'll try reading it again soon. I also began jPod after spotting in a bookstore one day when I had time to kill. I love what I've read so far and can't wait to read the rest, so in keeping with the theme of this rambling paragraph which I should've wrapped up long ago or simply not begun, thanks for jPod. The local library does not carry many Coupland books and as much as I love to support a good artist, books are kind of expensive, though I'm not a bit disapointed that I purchaed Microserfs, and, that's it, I've written more than enough, I think. Thanks again.

JBDecember 20, 2006 2:05 PM

Todd –

Um … so it’s taken over three months to respond to you. I’ve been trying to spend less time online. Let’s pretend that we’re doing this via Canada Post, and not via a message board that one can access 24/7/365. Hope you’re still there. :)

>> The can-con reference is primarily pointed at the funding guidelines laid down by Telefilm Canada and other funding bodies. They seem to be generally getting more of a clue now, but their definitions of what makes a film 'Canadian enough' are entirely arbitrary and generally pretty ridiculous and have really limited the types of films the industry has been able to make if they want access to that sort of funding.

Telefilm's guidelines are neither arbitrary or ridiculous. As per my original post, you're confused. "Canadian Content" is not a system to determine how Canadian the content of the story is. It's a points system that ensures that a certain number of key cast and crew are Canadian. It's really just that simple.

>> Yes, they're easing up now and becoming more accommodating of more commercially oriented film but for decades its been serious art film or nothing. Which is why Jeremy Podeswa now works for HBO, Aaron Woodley is shooting a Mariah Carey vanity project, etc etc. They can't get the funding to do the work they're interested in here, so they're forced to go south to get paying work.

OK, so now you're talking about the decision makers, and not Can-Con as such. But you still don't really know what you're talking about. With all due respect, you should take a few swimming lessons before wading into the deep end. Where to start? Let’s start with the filmmakers you’ve mentioned. Re: Jeremy Podeswa. He went south because he got offers from down south, which offers he took. No one forced him to go down south, and for every Jeremy Podeswa who does, there's a Bruce MacDonald who doesn't. Moreover, he didn't leave because he couldn't get the funding to do the work he was interested in. That’s a ridiculous statement. Do you have any idea how long it takes to put together the financing for even the lowest budget Canadian film? For the record, Jeremy Podeswa is currently directing an adaptation of Canadian author Anne Michael's "Fugitive Pieces" for Robert Lantos' Serendipity Point Films, the script for which he’s been working on for quite a few years. Moreover, Podeswa’s first two features – “Eclipse” and “The Five Senses” – i.e. the films he made a name for himself with – are EXACTLY the kind of “serious art films” that you’re claiming Telefilm was trying to force him to make, thereby driving him out of the country. Come on. Re: Aaron Woodley. No one's stopping him from writing his second feature and applying for funding, and for all you or I know, that’s what he’s doing. Now, I’m not going to judge him on directing a Mariah Carey vanity piece. (OK, I am.) But filmmakers need to work. As above, it takes a fucking long time to raise money to make any movie in Canada - and it takes even more time to raise a lot of money. So let them direct television in the meantime. But don’t blame Telefilm for supporting the films that gave them the credentials in the first place to do just that.

>> I think getting more commercial production companies into the game (Radke with this film, Anagram with Fido) could really help the industry here …

I don’t know what you mean by “commercial production companies”. If you mean “production companies that want to make money”, then that’s pretty redundant – the last time I checked, most Canadian production companies were ACTUAL BUSINESSES. It’s funny that you mention Anagram and Fido. (Full disclosure: I know the guys at Anagram and I’ve done contract work for them.) Did you know that Fido was in development for seven years before it finally got greenlit? Did you also know that before Anagram made Fido, they made a very low budget ”art house film” called “Mile Zero”, and then a slightly higher budget film called “The Delicate Art Of Parking” – both supported by Telefilm? Hmmm - see how that works … ? No production company is going to make Fido the first time out.

>> …assuming they can find decent distribution, because as it stands right now unless you're Cronenberg, Egoyan or someone funding your movies through a Hollywood studio if you're English Canadian aint nobody in the country going to see your film beyond a handful in Toronto and Vancouver, and those only if they do the legwork to educate themselves because there aint anybody with the budget to properly promote things.

I certainly agree with you that there are serious systemic problems with film development and production and, especially, distribution and exhibition in this country – too many to get into here. For an excellent overview, I’d recommend the article “Canadian Features: Making It To The Finish Line” starting on page 8 of the Spring 2005 issue of InterACTRA:

http://www.actra.ca/actra/images/06April/38853Actra.pdf

Your analysis is superficial. With all due respect (again), as a film critic you should stick to film criticism, and not cultural policy analysis – especially uninformed cultural policy analysis. (I’m sick of every Canadian film critic not only trashing Canadian films, but trashing the industry.) Look at the Globe & Mail – Rick Groen and Liam Lacey do the film criticism, and Kate Taylor does the cultural policy analysis. It’s a very useful division of labour.

>> As for Vancouver being on screen, name another feature from the past five years that used it as itself.

Just from the past five years? OK. Here’s one:

On The Corner

And here’s baker’s dozen more (in alphabetical order, just for fun):

Acts Of Imagination
Everyone
The Delicate Art Of Parking (as above)
Eve And The Fire Horse
The Hamster Cage
Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity
Male Fantasy
Mount Pleasant
Moving Malcolm
Punch
See Grace Fly
Unnatural & Accidental
Various Positions

Nearly all of the above films are worth watching. There are also the half dozen television series I mentioned (the lowest rated of which reaches more Canadians than any feature during its theatrical run.) So enough with crediting Douglas Coupland for finally writing a film set in Vancouver.

>> Don't get me wrong, I know there's a lot of talent produced here, but our industry is a shambles.

And you're helping how ... ? The fact that we make as many good movies as we do, out of how few actually get made, says a lot about the commitment and passion and talent and energy and fucking vision of our filmmakers. In my humble opinion, a successful producer in Canada has to master more creative, business, interpersonal and street skills than any other occupation I can think of. They're all my heroes.

Finally, since I first responded to your review, I’ve seen “Everything’s Gone Green”. Now its official: I not only disagree with your casual comments about, but I also disagree with your review - the film failed on more levels than it succeeded. But I’ve typed enough for now. ;)

Cheers,

JB.

Todd BrownDecember 20, 2006 4:00 PM

JB, I'm quoting Telefilm application documents here:

"Telefilm Canada, in administering the Canada Feature Film Fund, will prioritize those feature films that contain significant Canadian creative elements, including Canadian stories, characters, settings, themes, talent and technicians, and which reflect Canadian society and cultural diversity."

In other words the more "Canadian" your film is in content the higher priority it will receive. It's NOT just a point system, though that is certainly in play as well.

"Telefilm Canada has full discretion in administering its programs and in the application of these Guidelines to ensure that its funding is provided to those projects that meet its spirit and intent. In all questions of interpretation of either these Guidelines or of the spirit and intent of the Main Programs, Telefilm Canada’s interpretation shall prevail."

In other words, deciding what is "Canadian" enough in spirit is at the full discretion of Telefilm Canada, and their decisions cannot be questioned.

"In administering the CFFF, Telefilm Canada will seek to support the development, production and marketing of feature films that are owned and controlled by Eligible Applicants and which contain significant Canadian creative elements, including Canadian stories, characters, setting, themes, talent and technicians, and which reflect Canadian society and cultural diversity. While Telefilm Canada does not intend to restrict filmmakers in their choices of stories or their natural settings, it will, wherever possible, give priority to projects that present a distinctly Canadian point of view."

That's the opening paragraph of their eligibility requirements. Note how it states repeatedly the importance of distinctly "Canadian" creative elements.

Listed again specifically in the Evaluation Requirements section:

"Canadian elements – story, character, setting, source of the story, majority producer, writer, director."

Note that the 'point' elements are listed last. Again, it's NOT just a point system.

I could go on, but there's really nothing else to say on this ... Telefilm is based around a completely arbitrary system of what is "Canadian" enough to be funded and those criteria are clearly and explicitly applied to creative elements, not just talent and production.

Important to note here, too, that these quotes are taken from the current documentation that places a much higher emphasis on marketability than the old guidelines did. A few years back the emphasis on how "Canadian" a film was was MUCH stronger and more restrictive.

I'm not talking out of my ass here, JB. I know how the system works and I've talked to a LOT of people within the Canadian industry who feel the same way I do.

Has Telefilm funding helped some Canadian directors get a start? Of course it has. But it has also placed a glass ceiling on them and effectively crippled the industry that it exists to support. What we need in this country are less producers relying on government funding and playing the game that goes along with that and more producers whose first priority is the development of quality projects.

Yep, Podeswa went south because he got offers there, and good for him. He's a good director who deserves to be working and he's been doing good work for HBO. I just think it's a damn shame that someone as obviously talented as he is can't make a living working in his own country. That was my whole point in mentioning him and you've done nothing but reinforce that point. Podeswa can only work in Canada if he's content to make small scale art films, such as the ones that Telefilm already funded for him here. If he wants to do anything more ambitious or more commercially minded, or simply wants to work enough to eat, he's forced to go elsewhere.

The problem isn't that Telefilm exists. It isn't even that it has a cultural mandate, which it clearly does. The problem is that the industry is pretty much completely and entirely reliant on it, and other forms of government funding, to function and as such film makers are forced to buy in to the completely arbitrary cultural mandate if they want to make their films here simply because there isn't any other model to draw upon. You have to play their game because they're the only game in town.

Good point that there are a good number of recent films that treat Vancouver well - Cinamatheque Ontario just did a good series of west coast film that I caught a few screenings at - but how many of those films can actually be seen on screens anywhere in this country? Eve and the Fire Horse and Delicate Art of Parking both got limited runs here in Toronto - and limited here typically means one, maybe two screens, for no more than a week or two with zero press support. I definitely mis-spoke there, Vancouver is well used on screen, it's just that we never get the chance to see it here in Toronto because exhibitors won't show the films. I should've said it was nice to finally get the chance to actually SEE Vancouver on the big screen.

I'd be curious to know where you thought the weaknesses were in EGG, and also if you've read and enjoyed much of Coupland's written work before. He seems to polarize people to a degree.

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