DVD: Being Canadian (2015)

September 29, 2016 | By

BeingCanadian_sFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label: Passion River

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released: September 13, 2016

Genre:  Documentary

Synopsis: Comedic TV scribe Robert Cohen travels east to west in a very personal search for what it means to be a Canadian.

Special Features:  (none)




“In Norway and in Sweden they have the same brutal winters we have, and they come up with death metal, and in Canada, we come up with comedy.” — George Stroumboulopoulos


The question ‘What is a Canadian?’ is something many citizens have pondered – ‘Not American’ is one of the popular answers cited within Robert Cohen’s cheeky documentary – but for the writer of several successful American TV series (MADtv, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, The Big Bang Theory) and an ex-pat, it apparently became a thorny issue that needed to be explored within a self-imposed 7 day stretch in which Cohen would trek through the country’s provinces, moving from the east to the west coast, and make it just in time for July 1st, Canada Day.

Cohen draws from his weighted contact list of industry friends and associates plus his own firm grasp of comedic timing to assemble a snappily edited travelogue that worms its way through classic misconceptions (the Nice thing, the Boring thing), the lack of international recognition four our existence (Do they know we exist?), weird habits (apologizing to inanimate objects and strangers), and the country’s classic iconography of Winter, Beer, and Hockey (with an honorary mention going to curling, and TV’s The Beachcomers) in what’s less of a feature-length primer for foreigners, and more of a self-help guide for Canadians themselves.

For its first two-thirds it’s a sharp, giddy little journey with plenty of idiosyncratic moments, but when Cohen eventually nears Vancouver, B.C., for Canada Day celebrations (which of course he’ll make on time), there’s the inevitable wrap-up, and it’s a rather tepid summation (‘Forget the past; the Canada of today is odd, cool, and wonderful’), if not anti-climactic, given the alternative finale is a validation of the inferiority complex both our host and fellow famous Canadians (Michael J. Fox, Nathan Fillion, Jason Priestley, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Thicke, Alanis Morissette, Alex Trebek, Paul Shaffer, Morley Safer, RUSH, the Bare Naked Ladies, Howie Mandel, Eugene Levy, Russell Peters, sharp-witted David Steinberg, a half-naked Dave Foley, the ever-wonderful Catherine O’Hara, and more) readily admit exists and is part of the population’s DNA.

Being Canadian could be dubbed a vanity project for lacking a broad journalistic scope, but that’s not Cohen’s goal; this is more of a personal media essay on the quirks of a culture, and their advantages – making us predictable in being odd, brilliantly passive-aggressive, and maybe the world’s largest exporter of comedians – which ensures we’re not just absorbed as a little brother of the U.S, but regarded as a nation that has transcended the ‘lowered expectations’ mindset that dominated the 70s and 80s. (A lengthy segment on the instantly recognizable look of sickly-looking Canadian shows of those decades is spot-on; you really could spot a local production based on bad lighting, grainy film stock, and a thing known as CBC light that determined a film print’s colour timing.)

The tone is satirical, self-effacing, and tongue-in-cheek (plus a little smart-ass, when you acknowledge Cohen’s own sense of comedic timing), and although Being Canadian doesn’t offer enough factual meat to be a formal hard-hitting doc, as a piece of informative entertainment and a personal journey of sorts and at least for most of its running time, it’s a giddy, often hysterical ride that forces viewers to share in the self-deprecating laughter of its author and interview subjects who either retain ties to their citizenship, or have chosen to live in what’s a pretty fine country.

Passion River’s DVD is a bare bones release with an elemental menu, and in scanning the list of interview subjects on the IMDB, it seems Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City, Ticket to Heaven), and Micheael Buble didn’t make the final cut, which isn’t likely a loss given Being Canadian runs a brisk 90 mins. Several of Cohen’s interview subjects are decades-old friends, and he mines their wit for an assortment of comments and baffled expressions that don’t come off as staged (although a session with a shrink on the issue of feeling like the not-so-cool cousin to the U.S. is obviously rehearsed).

One of the biggest conundrums that constantly raise the ire of CanCon fans isn’t addressed in the doc, but is ironically represented by the doc itself: like many Canadian films and TV series, the DVD is only available as an import. Cohen’s film can be bought via two online vendors (Google Play + iTunes), but there’s no domestic DVD, and it’s unavailable for digital download from Vimeo. This is of course perfectly poetic, because the doc represents the ongoing apathy of traditional domestic distributors towards their own Canadian film culture.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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