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.