2016 Canadian Film Festival: “Chasing Valentine” Review

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Chasing Valentine, the romantic drama and latest from Toronto based director and co-writer Navin Ramaswaran, tells the story of two young characters who, for reasons of their own, have shut themselves off from the world around them and remain isolated until crossing paths with one another. The film opens to a raucous house party hosted by Chase (Adam Langton) a promising young filmmaker. However, unlike the many celebrating party guests scattered around the house, we are introduced to a somber Chase in a back room. Here, Scarlet (Jen Pogue) Chase’s longtime girlfriend is packing her bags and walking out on both the party and their relationship. Later that night the already shaken Chase receives a phone call where he learns that Scarlet has passed away in what would seem to be a traffic accident. These events impact Chase heavily and send him into a deep depression. In our next encounter, two years later, it is made clear just how profoundly that night’s events have played upon him. Now an alcoholic, Chase makes a living editing porn videos from his home. Moreover, he has developed a severe stutter making it rather difficult to communicate with others, which isn’t as hindering as it would otherwise be because he now spends most of his time in his own home rarely, if ever, going out to meet others.

Valentine (Gwenlyn Cumyn), the film’s other lead, finds herself in an equally tragic situation. Stemming from a rough childhood involving foster care and juvenile correction facilities, she is forced to work as a call girl that caters to food based fetishes. However, this does not stop her from being evicted from the docked boat on which she lives. Valentine, an extremely repressed character, constantly keeps the world at bay by disguising her true identity through both the costumes she dons for clients and the multiple accents she uses in both her professional and personal lives. We first meet her in a hotel room while on the job. Dressed in a wig and sporting a Swedish accent she prepares an appropriate meal of Swedish meatballs for her client and then attempts to erotically feed the man. The client, going through marital troubles, stops Valentine in the act and admits that what he would really like is to grab a coffee, sit down and talk with her. This proposition seems like an easy night’s work for someone in Valentines position but instead infuriates the young girl prompting her to storm out of the hotel. Clearly then, Valentine’s greatest fear is allowing anyone to be close to her, as the idea of performing debaucherous activities for a stranger is much more appealing than sharing a personal conversation with one.

Chase and Valentine eventually meet one another at a bar and through certain circumstances Valentine ends up staying the night at Chase’s place without his knowing. The next day, upon learning that she has nowhere to go, Chase tells her that she can stay with him for a few days. Forced to be in constant proximity, both characters find themselves opening up to one another. Eventually a romance is kindled between the two and both psyches begin to go through positive reconstructions. However, unbeknown to Valentine her pimp Alex (Ryan Fisher) has been gambling away the nest egg she has been accumulating through her work and leaving with him for safekeeping. Due to the large debt that Alex has racked up he informs Valentine that she must stay in the business a while longer instead of leaving, as she had planned to do, after a few more jobs. Later, a frustrated Valentine has an incident with a client, which leads to her getting in trouble with the wrong people. Chase is eventually roped into the mix and their relationship is tested.

Although I deemed this a romantic drama, the romance between Chase and Valentine never takes center stage in the way that a love story would normally dictate. This is because the film is not as much concerned with their relationship as it is with the healing process that the two go through as a result of opening up to one another. These characters aren’t swept up in any sort of fantasy world, but rather together go through transformative processes and in turn relearn to exist in their own. Without sensationalizing the story (perhaps excluding the Mexican standoff in the last act) the films feels much more grounded than other typical genre outings. A consequence to this is that it takes on a quite somber tone for a large part of the running time. However, Brad (Brad Cowan), Chase’s best friend and constant motivator to rejoin the world, provides a much appreciated comedic counterpoint through his cavalier attitude towards women (opposing Chase’s reserved ways) and raunchy dialogue.

The main difficulty I had, which I should state is not necessarily a fault with the film, was becoming attached to Chase (who is arguable the principle character) early on. We are introduced to him during a moment of desperation and immediately thereafter he remains in a solemn state of depression for quite awhile. Because we never initially see Chase at his best but instead meet him at his worst, we cannot get a full picture of who this character is and, more importantly, just how far he has fallen. Just as I imagine I would care more about the state of someone I knew before they fell into a depression rather than someone I met already in one, I found myself initially distanced from Chase’s emotional arc, empathizing with the character but not sympathizing with him. This problem was, for the most part, remedied in the middle of the film when he begins to come around after starting his relationship with Valentine before being plunged back into conflict.

Chasing Valentine doesn’t break any major boundaries or offer too memorable of a screen romance. Instead the film effectively tells an intimate story of character growth and reconciliation, remaining grounded in a reality that most would probably be able to relate to in some way or another. Ultimately the film is a success in the sense that it achieves what it sets out to accomplish.

Watch the trailer for Chasing Valentine below!

scott

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