Ah, Canadian Cinema. The stigma our films are burdened with is a load I wouldn’t want to carry, but as a Canadian film maker, it is my load to carry. Still, when I get the chance I like to throw a few bucks at the home team when they play. Thus, I went in relatively blind when I saw that Pretend We’re Kissing was playing. I didn’t know anything about it, but I prefer being surprised anyway. And look, I’m even writing a review for it. I haven’t written a full and proper movie review in months. Or… maybe even a year now. Anyway, something about this film made me want to get writing again. And since I’m trying to open up the Checking the Gate Podcast site to more content, movie reviews seems like a logical place to branch to.
Pretend We’re Kissing is a romantic comedy by definition, but not by formula, which is refreshing. I actually like romantic movies, but I don’t like the tropes. Does that make me hard to please? It follows Benny (Dov Tiefenbach), an awkward self-employed loner who is trapped in his own mind, always over thinking every bit of human interaction. He’s been living with an old childhood friend named Autumn (Zoë Kravitz) who has been crashing on his couch for the last year, jobless and is a self-diagnosed agoraphobic. He’s getting sick of her freeloading, but also doesn’t really have the guts to do much about it. One night at a concert, he gets to flirting with a girl named Jordan (Tommie-Amber Pirie), but again, doesn’t do much about that until, by chance, a couple days later, she bumps into him again and they go for lunch together and romance blooms and everything.
Now before you get all up in this movie’s grill about sounding too typical, I will say that it takes some of the conventions of the genre and turns them on their head, thankfully. By looking at the poster, I was worried this movie would be too “cute.” It wasn’t really. If anything it was just painfully awkward. I’m still trying to figure out if this is to the film’s detriment or not. It seems to speak to the modern young adult generation of awkward, self-doubting city kids. Not to put Benny into a box; he’s more complex than that. He is self employed with his own poster design company where he shamelessly plugs Canadian music acts like Brendan Canning and Zeus. That at least shows that in some respects he has the reigns on his life and can really make something of himself when he puts his mind to it. His lack of success is mostly in regards to interacting with people, or women in particular. He doesn’t even recognize what he has to offer.
This is writer / director Matt Sadowski’s first film and he taps into a common problem in modern relationships. Men remain too timid and women’s expectations are unrealistic. It’s a brutal cycle. Lovely as she is, Jordan is the master of her own undoing. She’s chasing a feeling that can’t be sustained. She seeks the excitement of new love and the spontaneity of a blossoming romance. But seeking spontaneity is like bugging someone for the low-down of your surprise party. She cannot win. But there is a universal truth to this, in that people aren’t willing to fight for their love. We’re not willing to let down our own comforts and expectations to make relationships work and the divorce rate reflects that. We don’t give a more matured love a chance. Of course, what this film depicts is an extremely condensed version of a more long term problem, but it gets the point across.
Pretend We’re Kissing can boast that it has the most realistic sex scene that I’ve seen in a movie in ages. It’s not particularly explicit or even that sexy. The camera is still and basically watches as Benny and Jordan engage in what looks to be only mildly enjoyable intercourse at best. It’s long for a movie scene, but not long for a sexual encounter. And while some might deem this unnecessary, I can’t help but feel that this is more or less the thesis of the film. They try and recreate a feeling, but are unwilling or too impatient to work toward a real bond between one another. And if you’re a lover with any degree of experience, the bond is where the magic happens.
While it occasionally meanders, even with its fairly short run time, for the most part the film leaves with a fairly good impression. Perhaps watching Benny’s struggle to get out of his own head and settle into a level of comfortability in his own skin is more fulfilling than one might first think. Or maybe it’s because it’s actually a pretty funny film. It doesn’t try too hard to be funny, it just winds up being thanks to a level of genuineness in the characters and situations. They’re just odd enough that they’re believable and relatable and, when done right, comedy’s anchor is in truth.
So, does Pretend We’re Kissing add to the stigma of Canadian cinema? Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I agree with the preconceived notions of what Canadian movies are or aren’t. Some films that people find boring, I do not. And I appreciate when a movie is made on a tight budget, much like this one was. Plus, I’m not convinced that the people who believe in these stigmas have even seen a Canadian movie. Truth is, I’m the target audience for this film. It’s not for everyone, but there is enough meat to the characters and story that indie film fans can get their fix and maybe even laugh along the way.