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
SUNDOWNERS: THE CHILL CHARM OF BOOZE, NEAR-SEX EXPERIENCES AND MINOR DISASTERS
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
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.
CINEMA AXIS REVIEW
By Courtney Small
August 24, 2017
Pavan Moondi has a wonderful gift for showcasing people whose lives are in desperate need of change. In both Everyday is Like Sunday and Diamond Tongues he looked at individuals, post-grad students and a struggling actress respectively, whose career and relationship stagnations are often products of their own self-sabotage. Though they dream of more fulfilling pastures, the comfortable lure of their drab existence proves too hard to break.
This is the situation that Alex (Phil Hanley) and his best pal Justin (Luke Lalonde) find themselves in during Moondi’s latest comedy Sundowners. Working as a wedding videographer for a boss, Tom (Tim Heidecker), who finds creative ways to justify not paying him, Alex has dreams of becoming a fulltime filmmaker. When Tom books him to film a destination wedding, and allows him to pick his own photographer for the assignment, Alex sees it as the perfect opportunity for he and Justin to getaway from the banality of their current existence.
Planning to give Justin a crash course in photography, at least enough so that he can fake his way through the wedding, Alex hopes that the Mexico trip will offer the life-changing revelation he needs. Justin is not without his own problems though. Taking care of his ailing grandmother, and stuck in a dead-end office job, Justin recently learned that his ex-girlfriend aborted a child he never knew she was carrying. As the two men fumble their way through the wedding and drunken nights they are forced to face the facts that running away from ones problems does not erase them.
Anchored by Moondi’s trademark witty dialogue, Sundowners avoids many of the conventional tropes that one would expect from the premise. While the film has its share of odd peripheral characters, most of whom are associated with the wedding, there are no cheap men behaving badly laughs. There is a surprising and sufficient amount of pathos laced into the fiber of the film.
Tackling thirty-something disenfranchisement with the same intelligent humour that Whit Stillman employs to dissect social classism, Moondi once again shows why he is one of the Canadian directors to watch. He brings a brilliant mixture of wit, dejection and anxiety to his characters, while never losing faith that one day they will put on their grown-up pants and take that necessary step forward.
It is this earnest appreciation of his characters, and his desire to keep much of the comedy grounded in reality, that make Alex and Justin’s plight so interesting to watch. Whether it is the way Alex’s desperation often manifest in his awkward conversations with women, which is a direct contrast to the effortless way Justin attracts members of both sexes, or Justin’s reluctance to see possibility of something greater beyond the cloudy bubble his life is encased in, there is an earnest familiarity to these men that is relatable.
Growing in confidence with each film, both from a script and visual standpoint, it is only a matter of time before Moondi becomes the household name he deserves to be.
Source: Cinema Axis
Pavan Moondi mines hilarious comedy from tale of doofuses in oddball situations
BY NORMAN WILNER AUGUST 24, 2017 6:00 PM
Pavan Moondi’s Diamond Tongues, which he co-directed with Brian Robertson, was an uncomfortable comedy about a young woman (Leah Fay Goldstein) compulsively undermining her career as an actor. It’s on Netflix. It’s really good. You should check it out.
Going solo with his follow-up, Sundowners, Moondi is still working the vein of uncomfortable comedy, but this time his characters aren’t so much self-destructive as constantly being destroyed.
Alex (Phil Hanley) works as a wedding videographer for a Toronto fly-by-night operator (Tim Heidecker); assigned to shoot a Mexican destination wedding, he enlists his pal Justin (Luke Lalonde, of Born Ruffians) to assist, despite the fact that Justin has no idea how to use a camera. But hey, a working vacation is a working vacation, right?
Sundowners takes its time revving up, but once it gets going it’s a low-key pleasure as Alex and Justin run into one oddball situation after another – an oversharing groom (Diamond Tongues’ Nick Flanagan), a predatory father of the bride (David John Phillips), a poolside seduction that goes sideways in the worst way.
Moondi loves the moment when awkwardness turns to panic, and Hanley and Lalonde are really good at drawing that moment out to excruciating lengths. But keep an eye on Cara Gee as the enthusiastic bride-to-be; also Diamond Tongues’ Goldstein turns up for one solid early scene.
And if Diamond Tongues was compassionate about its self-destructive protagonist, Sundowners knows its heroes are dolts – inept with women, sloppy with their equipment, terrible at arranging wake-up calls. They’re doofuses but at least they’re trying, so we root for them to carve out one tiny victory somewhere, even though we know that’s probably not going to happen. But we can still laugh.
SOURCE: NOW Magazine
The vacation-gone-awry movie is a tried-and-tested formula. Ditto the bros-being-bros film. But when writer-director Pavan Moondi (Diamond Tongues) decided to combine the two genres with his new comedy Sundowners, he created something deliberately awkward and bravely subversive.
It is more John Cassavetes than Chevy Chase, and not so much a homage to, say, The Hangover than it is a stupor stinking of cinematic cynicism.
When the film opens, Moondi gently eases us into the life of wedding videographer Alex (Phil Hanley) and his best friend, office monkey Justin (Luke Lalonde, of Ontario rockers Born Ruffians). Both are stuck in go-nowhere jobs with dim social prospects, but all that looks to change when Justin is sent to Mexico by his delusional boss (a scene-stealing Tim Heidecker). Except, well, it doesn’t.
Where most filmmakers would take such a premise to spin a har-har tale of drunken high jinks, Moondi uses the set-up to subvert expectations and plumb the darkest corners of his leads’ insecurities. It is at times extremely uncomfortable, but captivating and engaging all the same.
Source: The Globe and Mail
By Kevin Scott
August 21, 2017
Capturing that distressing moment in your mid-30s when you start to feel hemmed in by all of the ill-advised decisions that you made in your 20s, Sundowners is a tremendously funny buddy comedy that makes splendid use of its likeable cast and exotic locale. With a freewheeling and episodic structure befitting a brief sojourn abroad, the film maps the dizzying highs of escaping a mundane existence and the awful accompanying realization that it will at some point have to come to an abrupt end.
Alex (comedian Phil Hanley) is a wedding videographer who once had dreams of becoming a bona fide filmmaker. He works for a company run by the eccentric Tom (Tim Heidecker), who decides to dispatch Alex to a big job in Mexico to film a destination wedding. With Tom desperate for some new blood behind the camera, Alex enlists his best friend Justin (Born Ruffians’ Luke Lalonde) to help, who has little photography experience and is weighed down by both a terrible call centre job and being the caretaker of his ailing grandmother.
But after they deceive Tom into thinking Justin knows his way behind a lens, they set off together to Mexico. Once they get to the resort, they meet all of the participants in the wedding. There’s the bride (Cara Gee), the groom (Nick Flanagan) who immediately confides that he’s in financial trouble, the best man (Islands’ Nick Thorburn) who’s secretly in love with the bride, the father-of-the-bride (David John Phillips) who takes a real liking to Justin and the sister of the bride (Jackie Pirico) who does the same while invoking memories of Isla Fisher’s stage five clinger in Wedding Crashers.
Leading up to the nuptials, there are naturally all sorts of hijinks, with writer-director Pavan Moondi showcasing a great knack for crafting comic scenes out of the most basic of set-ups. For instance, a sequence in which Alex and Justin wander around their hotel trying to remember which room they are staying in leads to an escalating series of amusing non-sequiturs. There are also a couple of good running jokes involving wake-up calls and the challenge of folding up a collapsible reflector.
Through it all, acting neophytes Hanley and Lalonde maintain wonderful chemistry and familiarity with each other, as their back-and-forth banter provides some of the film’s biggest laughs. Heidecker makes the most of his limited screen time, with Moondi giving him plenty of room to riff (and even sing) on some hilarious tangents. Flanagan and Thorburn, who have both appeared in past projects of Moondi’s, also manage to leave an impression in their supporting roles, with the latter even providing the film’s score and a few choice Islands songs for the memorable soundtrack.
The film continues the growth Moondi displayed previously in Everyday Is Like Sunday with Diamond Tongues (whose star, July Talk’s Leah Fay Goldstein, makes a brief appearance here), while furthering the loose and improvisational feel that is becoming his stock in trade. Fuelled by the energy of the performers and vibrant location (actually shot in Colombia, not Mexico), there’s a palpable sense of fun and camaraderie that jumps off the screen and can’t help but be contagious for the viewer. Alex and Justin may be floundering while trying to find their purpose in life, but Moondi cements himself here as one of Canada’s best emerging filmmakers.
Totally biased review of a new Canadian movie I can’t help but cheer for
BY LORRIE GOLDSTEIN, TORONTO SUN
The first thing you should know about this review of the new dark comedy Sundowners, is that it’s not a typical one.
That’s because I can’t be objective about it.
Writer/director/editor Pavan Moondi chose my daughter, Leah Fay of July Talk (winner of two Juno Awards for alternative album of the year), as the star of his last movie, the widely-acclaimed, Diamond Tongues.
This after seeing Leah perform with July Talk at the Toronto International Film Festival a few years ago.
As a result, Leah was nominated for a 2016 Canadian Screen Award, for best actress, for her role as “Edith” in Diamond Tongues, her first professional acting job. Pretty cool.
I also know one of the producers of Sundowners, Brian Robertson, who co-directed Diamond Tongues, and his mom.
Ditto Peter Dreimanis, of July Talk, one of the film’s cinematographers.
Parts of Sundowners (those not shot in Columbia, which substitutes for Mexico) were filmed at our house, and at the home of Leah’s grandparents.
For which, before you ask, we were not paid, although we did receive some movie passes and were invited to eat catered meals with the cast and crew, which was sweet.
(Served at our dining room table. In Canadian film-making, everyone knows how to stretch a dollar).
Finally, Leah has a small but unforgettable part (okay, my opinion) in Sundowners.
Having satisfied the journalistic principle that prior disclosure of a conflict of interest removes the conflict, I can now, in good conscience, give you my opinion of Sundowners.
I thought it was hilarious, with an edge.
I laughed out loud half a dozen times while watching it on my computer, by myself, sitting at my kitchen table, at one in the morning.
It’s the story of hapless wedding videographer, Alex (played by Phil Hanley) and his best friend and photographer (who knows nothing about photography) Justin, played by Luke Lalonde, lead singer of Born Ruffians.
Drawing on his own early experiences filming weddings, Moondi’s script tells the story of Alex and Justin as they are sent off by their maniacal boss, Tom (Tim Heidecker), to “make the best wedding video that’s ever been made” at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, for an utterly dysfunctional family.
The groom, Mike (Nick Flanagan), has just gone bankrupt and is under investigation for tax fraud, which he hasn’t told his fiance, the beautiful and intense Jenny (Cara Gee), whose lecherous father (David John Phillips), hates Alex at first sight, but is sexually attracted to Justin, as is Jenny’s sister, Sarah (Jackie Pirico).
Hilarity ensues, summed up in one scene where Alex, an unsuccessful film maker and Justin, an unhappy telemarketer in their “real” lives, review their harrowing 48 hours in Mexico, after Alex worries he’s having a heart attack and Justin vomits from food poisoning.
Alex: “Wow, we make a great team. In the last 48 hours we’ve spent $200 on a cab fare, we went to the wrong resort, we spent four hours looking for our hotel room, you lost your passport, I ruined my phone, we taped a wedding with no sound, and now, apparently, you have barbecue sauce poisoning.”
To which Justin helpfully replies: “You got your ass kicked, too.”
Two of my favourite scenes occur when Alex’s boss, Tom, musically responds to his request to be paid, and later asks his unseen wife to bring down a bottle of champagne and flutes to his home office, which goes impressively awry.
Sundowners also has a darker side.
Moondi’s special talent is in creating damaged, hard-to-like characters, who we come to care about not in spite of their faults, but because of them, which ultimately reveal their humanity.
He also captures the angst of 30-somethings trying to cobble together a meaningful life in an age of boring, low-paid contract work, with no security.
The musical score by composer Nick Thorburn, who plays the groom’s best friend while hopelessly in love with Jenny — and has one of the funniest lines in the movie as a result — is superb.
Despite its underlying darkness, Sundowners ends, perhaps optimistically, at sunrise, with Alex and Justin up on a roof — where, as the song says, we can see heaven much better — seemingly more at peace with themselves than when their adventure began, and wiser because of it.
Source: Toronto Sun