Snow Cake is a slow, quiet film that creeps up on you. You don’t realize it’s working for you until the end rolls around, and you’re left reflecting on its impact.
It’s about a lonely, middle-aged man whose life is changed by a car crash. Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman, Love Actually) is on a road trip across Canada. He reluctantly picks up a hitchhiker, a spunky teenage girl. Just as they’re developing a bit of a connection, they’re blindsided by a semi. This results in Alex making an unplanned st…p in her hometown of Wawa, Ontario, to visit the girl’s mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver, Alien), a high-functioning autistic woman.
Alex gets roped into staying with Linda for a few days, to help look after things for her. While in Wawa, he develops a friendship-ish relationship with Linda, and something more than friendship with Linda’s free spirit neighbor, Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss, Suspect Zero). Although Alex is way out of his comfort zone, his time in Wawa may be the best he’s spent in a long time.
There’s more to it, of course, but not a lot. The story is simple, as it’s the characters and their relationships that fuel interest. Thanks to an excellent performance by Weaver and strong turns from Rickman and Moss, these relationships are more than enough to create a lasting impression. Weaver deserves the most credit, as her portrayal is a well-crafted balance of coherent conversation and unexpected outbursts of childlike wonder and statements that any “normal” person would call incredibly rude or insensitive. Rickman plays off Weaver as the grumpiest, loneliest guy in Canada. His performance is understated, a necessity since he truly seems to be the perfect guy for the role.
The screenplay was written by Angela Pell, who is mother to an autistic child. The interesting choice here is while she applied her knowledge and experience with Autism, Pell decided to write about a middle-aged Autistic rather than a child. Other than Rainman, which is a very different story, I can’t think of any other films that portray an Autistic grown-up. Pell also has a great sense of humour, which comes out all over the place, amidst the discomfort and heartbreak. If the story has a weakness, it’s the coincidental similarity between Alex’s haunted past and this current situation. It works, but it’s also an unnecessary element that may have viewers questioning what otherwise feels like a very real story.
Snow Cake deserves more awareness than it will likely receive. I can’t think of anyone above a certain maturity level I wouldn’t recommend the film to, and while I’m not sure how soon I’ll be revisiting the film, I know it will stay with me for quite some time.
So, how’s the DVD?
Snow Cake is presented on one disc, in 1.85:! widescreen format. The transfer appears to be pretty much perfect, but the film’s source material varies in quality a fair bit. The finest of cinematographer Steve Cosens’ (The Dark Hours) footage looks truly beautiful, with two scenes that really stick out in mind. One is indoors, during the dinner between Alex and Maggie, which captures a rich, warm visual feel. The other is outside, when Alex and Maggie are talking by the lake, and Cosens took advantage of the melting winter snow to underscore the scene with natural beauty. As for the lower quality stuff, while I understand it was done on purpose, several shots of the town and Alex’s wandering look like faked 8mm home video. The contrast between these elements and the more visually pleasing material is a bit jarring.
Outside of a split-second event early in the film, Snow Cake doesn’t have a lot going on aurally. Nevertheless, the disc’s audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, a mix that has no trouble with anything the film has to offer. It’s a relatively quiet film, heavy on always clear dialogue, but there are a few moments when the soundtrack by Broken Social Scene flairs up to accentuate a particularly emotional scene or transitory sequence.
French audio is also offered in Dolby Digital 5.1, while subtitles are available in English and French.
Snow Cake thankfully offers a couple of interesting features to explore. Since the film will likely stick in your mind, it’s nice to have these resources to feed your interest.
- Interviews with the cast and director: this is really a 40-minute making-of featurette. Organized by topic, each supported by a one or two-minute clip from the film, this piece offers plenty of interesting material and perspectives from cast and crew.
- Deleted Scenes: a collection of scenes running about 18 minutes, these are interesting to see but, as usual, were obviously reasonable cuts. Included here is more interaction between Alex and Linda’s daughter, and a short scene showing Linda at work.
- Trailers: standard stuff, enough said.
Snow Cake surprised me. It’s funny, dramatic and unique. This disc does it justice, so if you’re willing to go out on a limb for a relatively unknown film, just buy it.
Special Features List
- Interviews with the cast and director
- Deleted scenes