Snow Cake

2007, Movie, NR, 112 mins


Marc Evans' small-scale drama focuses on the offbeat relationship between a chronically depressed man and an autistic woman, and with a lesser cast it would be insufferable. But Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman imbue screenwriter Angela Pell's characters with a quiet authenticity that's surprisingly moving.

Middle-aged Englishman Alex Hughes (Rickman) is having a quick lunch before resuming his drive across Canada to meet a former girlfriend when aggressively offbeat teenager Vivienne (Emily Hampshire) sits herself down at his table and initiates a largely one-sided conversation. His efforts to freeze her out fail, and he eventually agrees to give her a lift to Wawa, the tiny town where she lives with her mother. Alex is growing to like Vivienne's cheerful, prattling company — much to his own surprise — when, in an instant, it's snatched away. As they wait at an intersection, the car is broadsided by a truck and Vivienne is killed on the spot. Though he's not to blame in the accident, Alex is so guilt-ridden at having walked away unscathed that he forces himself to look up Vivienne's mother, Linda (Weaver). Vivienne had alluded to the fact that her mother was unusual, but Alex is unprepared for how unsettling her behavior — the product of autism — is. Though Linda is, with help, able to live on her own, she's obsessive, easily distracted, self-centered, impulsive and subject to disconcerting verbal and physical tics. She seems more disturbed that Alex is tracking dirty snow into her home than at Vivienne's death, and Alex's intense aversion to confrontation and excessive displays of emotion render him particularly ill-equipped to deal with her eccentric outbursts. But Linda's own parents are on a hiking trip and can't be reached, and Alex can't in good conscience leave her alone to plan Vivienne's funeral. So he agrees to stay for a few days. During that time, he comes to admire Linda's intelligence and fierce independence, and even forges a tentative relationship with her next-door neighbor (Carrie-Anne Moss).

Taking her cue from Pell's screenplay (Pell's son is autistic), Weaver doesn't play Linda's eccentricities as cute or charmingly childlike — her performance is authentically abrasive. Rickman has the less showy role, but his Alex is just as damaged and their prickly relationship feels awkwardly real. The story comes to an end that is as inconclusive as life itself, gently buoyed by a glimmer of hope that Alex, at least, has taken a step towards engaging with the world. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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