Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The High Cost of Living Emotionally Taxing

The High Cost of Living

Back in September, during my last day of TIFF, I was at the point where I had seen my fill of good movies and was not expecting to be struck by any of my remaining films for that day. Especially since none of them had generated much buzz. Then came Deborah Chow’s The High Cost of Living, a film that completely caught me off guard and made me a believer in Zach Braff at the same time.

When a local drug dealer Henry (Zach Braff) strikes down a pregnant woman, Nathalie (Isabelle Blais), while driving drunk, he is riddled with guilt. Compelled to find out if the woman survived or not Henry does all he can to track her down. Unable to come to terms with the lost her unborn child as a result accident, Nathalie still carries the stillborn fetus inside her. When Henry and Nathalie’s path finally cross, Henry is unable to tell her that he was the driver that fateful night. To make matters worse for Henry, he and Nathalie strike up a genuine friendship that grows stronger and stronger.

The High Cost of Living not only ended up winning the Best Canadian First Feature award at TIFF but it also made TIFF’s 2010 Canada’s Top Ten year-end list. Although I am sure some will disagree, I think the film is worthy of the praise it has received. One of the reasons the film works so well is that it finds a way to make a conventional story feel new again. Relationships formed from guilt and grief are not new in cinema, but Deborah Chow manages to find a way to bring real emotional weight to the film.

Part of this is due to the great performances by Isabelle Blais and Zach Braff. Blais has the most of the heavy lifting to do in the film and she sells it wonderfully. Even as Chow piles on the melodrama, such as the moments with her husband, Blais finds a way to make Nathalie continually interesting. Zach Braff was a huge surprise as he proves he can truly lose himself in a role. I never really bought into Braff’s characters in his previous films (Garden State, The Last Kiss, etc.), but Braff finally convinced me he can handle leading man roles on the big screen with his subtle but effective work in this film. Braff and Blais have fantastic chemistry which helps to elevate the film from the “T.V. movie of the week” it could have easily become into a feature film. In many ways their relationship reminded me of the one in Ben Affleck’s The Town but done much better.

Deborah Chow should also be praised for sustaining the film’s overall emotion for as long as she does. She shows immense talent as a writer and is definitely a director to keep an eye on in the future. While the premise of The High Cost of Living may not be new, Chow and her talented lead actors help to make the film a rather pleasant surprise.


  1. That looks like it could be a good show. I liked the trailer and your article has really got me interested.

    Looks like it covers some quite heavy issues though. May explode my simple mind. Carrying a dead baby around in her stomach whilst striking up a friendship with the killer of her child....eeeeek

  2. @Custard - The premise makes the film seem darker than it film really is. The film is more about relationships than anything else.


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