The Hollywood Reporter: Sundowners [Review]

The Hollywood Reporter: Sundowners [Review]

By Frank Scheck
December 15, 2017

The Bottom Line: A droll delight.

Exuding such a relaxed feel that it’s not surprising that its title doesn’t appear onscreen until nearly the half-hour mark, Sundowners never strains too hard for its considerable laughs. Depicting the misadventures of a pair of bumbling videographers assigned to shoot a destination wedding in Mexico, Pavan Moondi’s low-key comedy has a plotline that wouldn’t be out of place in a mainstream Hollywood effort. But this Canadian indie mostly avoids the sort of vulgarisms attendant to films of that ilk, displaying a slyly droll humor that proves consistently engaging.

The plot concerns thirtysomethings Alex (comedian Phil Hanley) and his best friend Justin (Luke Laldonde, lead singer of the Canadian band Born Ruffians). Alex, an aspiring filmmaker, makes ends meet by working as a wedding videographer for a sleazy boss (Tim Heidecker, of the comedy duo Tim and Eric) who has a nasty habit of not paying him.

When Alex is offered the chance to film a wedding in Mexico, he decides to take advantage of what he sees will at least be a free beach vacation offering the promise of booze and babes. He enlists his buddy Justin, who works a dead-end office job, to serve as his assistant despite the fact that he barely knows how to operate a camera.

After taking their first-ever plane trip, a milestone that Alex notes with bitterness, the pair quickly find themselves coping with numerous logistical problems upon arriving in Mexico. They also have to deal with a wedding party that includes the groom, Mike (Nick Flanagan), who’s terrified that his beautiful bride Jenny (Cara Gee) will bolt once she finds out he’s recently gone bankrupt; the best man (Nick Thorburn), who’s in love with Jenny and is determined to break up the wedding; Jenny’s sex-starved sister (Jackie Pirico); and Jenny’s flamboyantly gay father (David John Philips), who immediately sets his sights on Justin.

With the exception of such moments as a blistering encounter early in the proceedings between Justin and his ex-girlfriend (Leah Faye Goldstein) when she asks him for money to pay for an abortion that he didn’t even know she had, Sundowners lacks the uncomfortable edginess of Moondi’s last (co-directed) effort, the acclaimed Diamond Tongues. But this film manages to capture millennial angst in subtle, darkly funny fashion. Expertly delivering Moondi’s sharp comic dialogue, the two leads, both making their screen acting debuts, make their characters’ haplessness surprisingly endearing, while such supporting players as Heidecker and Pirico prove adept comic scene stealers. The film’s tech credits are suitably modest for such a low-budget effort, with Colombia convincingly standing in for Mexico.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

The New York Times: Layabouts Behind a Wedding Lens in ‘Sundowners’ [Review]

The New York Times: Layabouts Behind a Wedding Lens in ‘Sundowners’ [Review]

By Andy Webster
December 14, 2017

A familiar comedy subgenre — that of hapless protagonists having misadventures at a wedding gathering at an exotic resort (see: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”) — is given a low-key workout in “Sundowners,” a Canadian indie seeking to subvert expectations but offering only drollery in their place.

The feckless heroes here are Alex (the stand-up comedian Phil Hanley), a wedding videographer, and his buddy Justin (Luke Lalonde, the frontman for the Canadian band Born Ruffians, in an assured film debut), a telephone-sales rep living with his grandmother. When Alex’s boss (an entertainingly smarmy Tim Heidecker) assigns him to a ceremony at a seaside Mexican vacation spot, Alex recruits Justin to assist, despite Justin’s complete inexperience. And off they go, first to the wrong resort, and then to an assortment of colorful characters, including a nervous groom (Nick Flanagan) facing a financial meltdown; the bride’s erratic father (David John Phillips); a best man (Nick Thorburn) who covets the bride; and the bride’s randy sister (the comedian Jackie Pirico), all skillfully portrayed.

Pavan Moondi — the Toronto filmmaker who wrote, edited and directed “Sundowners” — is fond of setups without payoffs: an exchange between Justin and his ex-girlfriend (Leah Fay Goldstein) about her abortion is not followed up; the best man’s ambition to interrupt the vows is not acted upon; a suggestion from Justin that he and Alex ultimately remain in Mexico instead of returning to their unrewarding routine is shot down. Closure may be missing, but at least glimpses of promising Canadian performers are in abundant supply.

Source: The New York Times

Sundowners in Bay City, Michigan, USA on te%

TFCA: Interview with Phil Hanley – Movie Star Wanted, No Experience Necessary

TFCA: Interview with Phil Hanley – Movie Star Wanted, No Experience Necessary

Toronto Film Critics Association
Jim Slotek
August 25, 2017

Two and a half years ago, Canadian-comic-turned-New-Yorker Phil Hanley got a strange email from a total stranger.
“It was Pavan (Moondi), reaching out to my website saying, ‘Hey, I’m writing this movie and I want you to be the lead.’ Apparently, he’d seen one of my stand-up sets on Craig Ferguson.

“I was like, ‘Oh, okay,’” Hanley says of the dubious message. “I’d had a few improv lessons, but I’d never acted.” He’d also been in a couple of commercials with no lines.

“I mean, I get odd emails like that on my website every so often. I like to say yes, just in case. But then he turned out to be for real, and I was kind of taken aback.”

Turns out: Yes was the right answer. Moondi, whose comedy Sundowners opens this weekend at TIFF Bell Lightbox, likes the innocence of style he gets from non-actors who are otherwise performers (just look at July Talk singer Leah Fay Goldstein, who had never acted before starring in Moondi’s previous film Diamond Tongues, earning her a Canadian Screen Award nomination).

Non-professionals are again the leads in Sundowners, a film about a pair of aimless Toronto millennials who get hired to record a seemingly-jinxed wedding at a resort in Mexico. Hanley plays Alex, a wedding videographer going nowhere fast. Luke Lalonde (lead singer of yet another Toronto band, Born Ruffians) plays his feckless best friend Justin.

It all sounded good, but Hanley admits he still didn’t entirely consider it real. “Every so often we’d meet. Pavan would come to New York and say, ‘Let’s get a drink and talk about the film.’ And then one day it was, ‘Yeah, the movie’s happening. We’re flying out to Colombia.” (Colombia doubles for Mexico in the film.)

Sundowners was based on Moondi’s own experience in Toronto as an unpaid wedding videographer, and an actual Mexican resort wedding he worked for “exposure dollars.”

“I knew the story came from him, but I didn’t really ask him too many details,” Hanley says. “I wanted to get into the space myself. But we clicked immediately. We are huge fans of Seinfeld, and we kind of started to talk to each other in comedy references, particularly Seinfeld and Louis C.K.” (Hanley says Seinfeld’s Comedian, his documentary about creating a new act from scratch, inspired the former male model to go into stand-up himself).

The Oshawa-born Hanley and the Kitchener-native Moondi hit it off so well, in fact, that they’ve since collaborated on pilot scripts for TV series. One, based on Hanley’s life in New York, was shopped around in Los Angeles this year and the comedian has high hopes to star in it.

Shot in reverse chronological order, the meat of Sundowners was shot at the Colombian resort first. The opening act of the movie was then shot in the dead of winter in Toronto. Moondi says that part of the production felt like a bit of a letdown, especially after shooting for a month in one of the most beautiful coastal vistas imaginable.

Hanley had a different take on the Toronto shoot. “By the time we got back to Toronto, Pavan and I were really close and Luke and I were, like, buddies. So, for me it was a homecoming. I hadn’t hung out with a large group of Canadians in years. The crew were from in and around Toronto. And some of my buddies from Oshawa were living in the city now.”

Hanley took to the script immediately, and to the concept of having a dream and worrying that you’re spinning your wheels in pursuit of it. “As a comic, you live it,” he says. “You do a lot of gigs that are not great. They tell you it’ll be great exposure and you get there and the audience is, like, 12 lumberjacks in rural B.C.”

Of course, he’s happier than ever that he decided to answer that crank email. “You know what? I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy anything as much as stand-up and I did.

“I missed the immediacy of the stage a little bit. I’m dying to see the screening and see what’s landing and what gets laughs. But I definitely want to do more film and acting.”

—Jim Slotek

Source: Toronto Film Critics Association

The Gate: Sundowners [Review]

The Gate: Sundowners [Review]

Review for The Gate
By Andrew Parker
August 24, 2017

The low-key comedy Sundowners, the latest directorial effort from Canadian filmmaker Pavan Moondi, could have easily been a tale of two not-particularly-likable people getting their comeuppance for recent karmic infractions, but instead it’s a jovial, unforced, and delicately paced look at best friends stuck together on the worst job of their professional lives.

Alex (Phil Hanley) is a struggling filmmaker eking out a meager, unfulfilling existence as a wedding videographer. Viewing every wedding he shoots as unexceptional, unexciting, and a waste of time, Alex has been mentally checked out of his job for quite some time, and his aloof boss (Tim Hiedecker, naturally acting as a scene stealer) giving him the run around about getting paid doesn’t help matters. There’s a blip of something to look forward to, however, when Alex is tapped to fly down to Mexico for an all expenses paid trip to film a destination wedding. Alex’s boss allows the filmmaker to pick whomever he wants to bring down as a still photographer, settling on Justin (Born Ruffians musician Luke Lalonde, in his first acting role), an equally unhappy customer service call centre worker with no actual photography experience. They think they’re on an easy assignment that equates to a free vacation, but thanks to a high strung groom (Nick Flanagan), a less than forthcoming boss back home, problems with hotel staff, run-ins with other tourists, and their own unknowing bits of self-sabotage, the trip quickly becomes the job from hell.

Writer-director Moondi (Everyday is Like Sunday, Diamond Tongues), who drew upon a lot of his own experiences as a videographer from early in his career, clearly has an affinity for his main characters, but stops short of forcing viewers to identify with them. Alex and Justin aren’t perfectly likable people. They’re kind of snobby, often pushy, definitely pretentious, and their method of flirting with women borders on icky, but they’re not bad enough to root against them. Alex comes across as the worse of the two, lost in his own head and the architect of his own loneliness, while Justin is leaving behind matters of greater consequence back home to go on the trip with his best bud. Sundowners works because it’s a great story of imperfect people put into opposition to situations and other human beings that are vastly more unlikable and uncomfortable. It’s a classic formula handled with great delicacy by Moondi.

Sundowners is a mannered comedy of errors, but never one that lapses into satire or slapstick. Moondi’s visual and narrative aims are a lot more observational than outwardly comedic. The screenplay stops just short of being overwritten despite a few convenient convolutions along the way, and Moondi allows Alex and Justin’s friendship to change organically and gradually amid the story’s occasional lapses of chaos. Moondi is aided immeasurably thanks to wonderful chemistry between Hanley and Lalonde, neither of whom have acting experience but come across as naturals. Lalonde particularly impresses in much the same way that Moondi led another musician, July Talk’s Leah Fay Goldstein, to a similarly memorable performance in Diamond Tongues. An early scene where a cameo-ing Goldstein appears as Justin’s ex proves that both of them should take on more acting gigs in the future.

Late summer is a perfect time for a comedy like Sundowners. It plays like a whip-smart, reflective, and uncompromised bit of observational comedy that’s akin to laughing off a hellacious hangover. It’s a nice addition to Moondi’s growing résumé, and a film that will hopefully lead to more work for its stars in the future.

Source: The Gate

Original Cin: The Chill Charm of Booze, Near-Sex Experiences and Minor Disasters [Review]

Original Cin: The Chill Charm of Booze, Near-Sex Experiences and Minor Disasters [Review]

August 24, 2017
By Jim Slotek

What would The Hangover or a Hollywood spring break comedy be like if it were a Canadian indie production like Pavan Moondi’s Sundowners?

In the first, you get booze, drugs, near-death experiences and lots of sex. In the second, you get booze, near-sex experiences and minor disasters.

And ennui, lots of ennui.

The thing is, dialed back this way, and buoyed by sarcastic dialogue, Sundowners is something closer to the kind of experience you expect with waves pounding the shore and a world-class sunset. Some Americans who’ve seen have pronounced it a “mumblecore” comedy, which, if you ask me, is just a hipster term for the kind of films people from Austin make once they’ve discovered Canadian movies.

Moondi’s version of a full-out comedy, Sundowners stands in marked contrast to his acclaimed previous feature, the actress-on-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown film Diamond Tongues. Like that movie (which starred July Talk lead singer Leah Fay Goldstein in her first acting job) the lead roles have been given to non-actors – comedian Phil Hanley and Luke Lalonde, the lead singer of yet another Toronto band, Born Ruffians (if nothing else, we know Moondi likes to club crawl).

Where Goldstein’s performance was a revelation (she was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award), the same innocence-of-style produces mere geniality in Sundowners. But that’s good enough for a comedy.

Kind of a bipolar beast, Sundowners has two distinctly different parts. In the first, we meet Alex (Hanley) and Justin (Lalonde). Alex is a wedding videographer, working for “exposure dollars,” and so depressed about his non-paying job that he doesn’t even take advantage of the free drinks. When he meekly complains to his poseur, BS artist boss Tom (a wonderfully skeevy Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric fame), he is offered… no, not money, but a wedding shoot at a Mexico resort.

Comparatively, Justin seems in worse shape (though generally in better spirits). Whereas Alex is actually working on the same planet as his dream job of filmmaking, Justin works in a call-centre, lives with his dementia-stricken grandmother, and his ex-girlfriend (Goldstein) is demanding money for an abortion. He’s not even a photographer and will be faking it.

So far, so dark. Alex and Justin are pretty much poster-boys for an entire generation that has all but given up on dreams or even on getting paid enough to buy all things ads tell them they need.

Once they’re on the plane, however, Sundowners lets go of social commentary with both hands. Moondi populates the rest of the movie with broad character strokes – an anxiety-stricken, secretly bankrupt groom (Nick Flanagan), a bride-coveting best man (Nick Thorburn of the band Islands, who also scored the picture), a sexually-aggressive bride’s sister (Jackie Pirico), a sexually-aggressive bride’s gay dad (David John Phillips). There are lost rooms, lost wallets and passports, technical foul-ups, bullying Aussies.

In fact, there are so many real problems, Alex and Justin have relatively little time to fixate on how much their life sucks (though that remains an occasional go-to topic of conversation).
Just another hotel snafu en route to a Mexican wedding standoff
Just another hotel snafu en route to a Mexican wedding standoff

In almost every case of near-disaster, Moondi eventually pulls back. Sundowners doesn’t go for antic or madcap. Its crises mostly involve worrying.

And for all that, it grows on you. Surrounded by coastal tranquility (Colombia subbing for Mexico), Sundowners is a chill indie take on a genre that’s usually so desperate to make us laugh, it hyperventilates.

Source: Original Cin

Cinemablographer: Sundowners and the Tertiary Life Crisis [Review]

Cinemablographer: Sundowners and the Tertiary Life Crisis [Review]

Let’s introduce a new term for aging millennials: the Tertiary Life Crisis. Hitting 30 sucks—but in my case, the milestone coincided with Trump’s inauguration, so many people had a worse weekend than I did—and it’s a time for self-reflection. Particularly for those of us who threw our lives away for arts degrees, it’s hard to feel like an adult in a low-paying job going nowhere when other friends are signing mortgages, getting married, and popping out babies. But some people prefer creative passions, drinks with friends, and cats, so there’s no reason that one lifestyle should eclipse another on the roundabout road to adulthood.

Alex Hopper, for example, is in such a rut. As played by Phil Hanley in Pavan Moondi’s offbeat and relatable Sundowners, Alex is a true millennial caught in a desperate cycle of pursuing his passion and scraping by to make ends meet. He works as a videographer for weddings to fund his love for filmmaking, of which he does very little outside of nuptial gigs, but his d-bag boss (Tim Heidecker) strings him along on with dead-end assignments that exploit his wants and needs for little pay.

Cue a new gig that, naturally, sounds too good to be true. Alex is to go film a destination wedding in Mexico (all-inclusive and all expenses paid) and he may choose a photographer of his liking. He invites his buddy Justin (Luke Lalonde) just for fun. Justin, however, doesn’t know a thing about photography. Like Alex, exists on a perpetual cycle of dead-end jobs and failed relationships. At thirty, he lives with his grandma, hates his low-paying job, and doesn’t know how to climb out of his rut.

Sundowners gives Justin a big wake-up call when his ex, played Diamond Tongues star Leah Faye Goldstein in a notably revitalizing cameo, visits with news that she had an abortion. The big revelation, which Goldstein delivers with a perfectly awkward spurt of word vomit, eases one into the film’s dark humour. Goldstein’s strong cameo sets up the tone and mode of inquiry nicely as Sundowners gives a sense of Moondi’s open approach in terms of exploring how our messy lives overlap while trying to maintain relationships with equally flawed and imperfect people. The July Talk singer appears again only on the film’s eclectic soundtrack that pulses with independent spirit from artists who’ve probably endured similarly quixotic odysseys as Alex and Justin’s Mexican adventure to make a living in the art of getting by.

The friends’ trip to Mexico goes wrong on virtually every level—as it should for directionless thirtysomethings—as they try to fool the wedding party that they’re a duo of professionals. That’s how one finds oneself. Mexico’s a much better rock bottom than most of us get.

It helps that the wedding party is its own band of misfit toys. Jenny (Cara Gee), for one, seems pretty much perfect as a bride: beautiful, kind, patient, fun, and then some. But why she settles for a spastic dweeb like Mike (Nick Flanagan) remains a mystery. She might be a better fit for Mike’s best man Nick (Nick Thorburn), who, naturally, seems destined to pipe up and object when asked if there’s any reason the bride and groom shouldn’t marry. Jenny’s family is an entire new level of kooky with her nympho sister (Jackie Pirico) and flamboyantly gay father (David John Philips) showing what happens when one settles for a life of convention without going after what one really wants from life. Nobody in Sundowners has his or her shit together, and that realization is wonderfully refreshing.

Sundowners strangely resonates with its dark humour despite the fact that Alex isn’t a particularly charismatic or likable character. His flaws are uncomfortably real, as are Justin’s, and the film is akin to a mirror for thirtysomething audiences who are bound to recognize their own dissatisfactions, frustrations, and appetites for better lives in the misadventures of these two unlikely heroes. Buoyed by humorously convincing performances by non-professional actors Hanley and Lalonde (a comic and musician, respectively), Sundowners is an unconventional coming-of-sorta-middle-age comedy about the insecurities we all inevitably have to confront at some point in our lives.

Moondi delivers his third feature after Diamond Tongues and Every Day is Like Sunday and it’s easily his best. Gone is the hipster angst of Diamond Tongues and the Queen Street West self-consciousness. Here’s a film that emulates its director’s growing maturity and self-reflection. Maybe it’s the Mexican setting (well, Colombia offering a cheaper stand-in for Mexico) that invites distance and perspective, but this open, honest, candidly funny and disarmingly down to earth film really gets it right.

Source: Cinemablographer

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