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.
Sundowners opens exclusively at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, August 25, 2017.
Check out the trailer for Sundowners: