Sundowners: The chill charm of booze, near-sex experiences and minor disasters

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.

Lalonde and Hanley

Lalonde and Hanley

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. 

Sundowners. Written and directed by Pavan Moondi. Starring Phil Hanley, Luke Lalonde, Tim Heidecker. Opening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Friday, August 25.

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Jim Slotek

Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.