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Michael Seater and Morgan Taylor Campbell in Sadie’s Last Days on Earth.

Courtesy of Red Eye

2 out of 4 stars

Title
Sadie’s Last Days on Earth
Written by
Michael Seater
Directed by
Michael Seater
Starring
Morgan Taylor Campbell, Helene Joy and Munro Chambers
Genre
Comedy
Classification
PG
Country
Canada
Language
English
Year
2016

Let me be clear: This one little movie is not to blame for everything that irks me about it. It's well-intentioned. It has some nice moments. Its backstory is encouraging: Its writer/director, Michael Seater, is a homegrown graduate of Canadian TV; he played the title character on Life with Derek (2005-09).

His lead actress, Morgan Taylor Campbell, is a heartening, slightly unconventional choice to play Sadie, a high-school senior who, when we meet her, is convinced that the world will end in a month, on Dec. 21. The plot clips along as she fashions her bedroom into a bunker filled with survival equipment, and tries to cross a few important milestones off her list (kiss a boy, repair her relationship with her best friend) before the earthquake/fire/flood subsumes everyone. By the end, she's learned something about what's worth sticking around for.

What irritates/depresses me about this film, though, is how much it conforms to a genre I think of as Telefilm-funded Canadian Quirk. I know it's a small country. I know there are a lot of worthy filmmakers vying for a limited amount of money. I know it's hard to grab any attention in a business dominated by the U.S. behemoth. But it seems to me that we keep making this same movie, and we keep making it in such a way (filled with compromises) that we doom it to fail, and guess what, it keeps failing.

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First of all, where are we? An ancient school of thought posits that Canadian films shouldn't be rooted in a specific place, lest a handful of Americans won't be able to relate to it. Also, the financing calendar and the weather dictate that movies go into production in certain months. I get that. But the result, here, is that we're in a nameless city where kids are wearing sleeveless T-shirts and the trees are in full leaf – in December. It's annoying. It's unnecessary. Pick another month.

Second, who are we? Yes, characters must be original and entertaining. But they should also be recognizable as people, and not just a collection of zany traits. Sadie feels disconnected from her handsome parents, played by Helene Joy and Peter Keleghan. They're meant to be self-involved. What they are, however, is utterly unbelievable in their unconcern for their daughter. The relationship is played as a joke, but it's a too-cheap one.

Sadie's school relationships are equally overquirked and under-true: Connie (Paula Brancati), the teacher Sadie lunches with every day, who confides way too much in her; Teddy (Munro Chambers), the flamboyant music lover with the English accent, who's thoroughly charming but is supposed to be an outcast anyway; Jack (Ricardo Hoyos), the dreamboat who sees things in Sadie that no one else does.

The only person who feels real is Sadie's ex-best-friend Brennan (Clark Backo – a woman with a male-sounding name), who backed away from Sadie when she started acting weird because she wants to be popular. That's a dilemma that feels real, and a relationship worth fighting for.

Third, why do so many Canadian films rely on overwrought conceits? Why isn't reality good enough? Sadie's focus on the end of the world is a symptom of a terrible anxiety. To earn any genuine emotion, the film needs to take that seriously at some point. Instead, characters keep minimizing it, or criticizing it, to keep the external story chugging along lightly.

For some reason, an unhealthy chunk of the Canadian film world still doesn't trust that honest stories with specific characters grounded in real life will be enough. So they add quirks and flourishes and flamboyances to make things interesting. Which ultimately undermines everything that was interesting in the first place.

Again, I'm heaping a lot of scorn on this one film, more than it alone deserves to bear. But here's hoping that Sadie's Last Days on Earth is Canada's Last Film that Needs to Be Overly Kooky to Get Made.

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