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VOD Review: Defining Moments

October 8, 2021

By John Corrado

★ (out of 4)

Defining Moments, which has been in the can for a little while now and is finally getting a VOD release this week, marks the final film role of Burt Reynolds, who passed away three years ago. But this is likely all it will be remembered for, if at all.

Shot in Unionville, Ontario, and vaguely set there too, this soppy, misguided multi-character dramedy from Canadian writer/director Stephen Wallis isn’t just bad, it’s bafflingly so. The film plays out with such clichéd storylines and some shockingly atrocious dialogue that it almost works as an unintentional comedy, but is ultimately too much of a chore to sit through.

The film opens with an elderly man, Chester (Reynolds), telling his daughter Marina (Polly Shannon) that he will die once he turns eighty, giving him only nine months left to live. The same time a baby takes to be born, he is taking to say goodbye. Meanwhile, Laurel (Tammy Blanchard) finds out from her own father Edward (Eric Peterson), a doctor in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, that she is pregnant, a real surprise since she is in her early forties.

These hokey themes of life and death continue throughout the film, which follows a random assortment of other characters as well. There’s Jack (Shawn Roberts), who breaks up with his girlfriend Terri (Kelly Van Der Burg) after telling her he doesn’t want kids, which happens through a truly bizarre conversation about reindeer testicles (the dialogue in general is strangely sexual, with a lot of weird euphemisms). He spends most of the movie doggedly trying to win her back, while getting sage life advice from his sister Lisa (Sienna Guillory), who keeps reminding us that she is dying of Multiple Sclerosis.

And then there’s Dave (Dillon Casey), an American who is on a Canadian road trip with his friends and they just so happen to be passing through Unionville. When we first meet him in the film, he is trying to blow his brains out with a pistol but ends up shooting his ear off instead. Thankfully, Edward is there to stitch it back on, and he ends up in an odd sort of treatment centre run by the overly cheerful Dr. Kelly (Graham Greene).

It’s here that Edward befriends a perpetually horny, sex-obsessed fellow patient named Geoff (Jamie Spilchuk). Geoff is the sort of quirky, mentally ill character who appears fun-loving and likes to give hugs, but you just know that he has a tragic past he is unable to come to terms with. I’m honestly not sure which character, Dave or Edward, is worse in terms of poorly portraying mental health issues.

Dave’s trio of backpacking friends need a place to stay while their suicidal friend recovers (this will magically also take about nine months, or, you know, the same time as a baby’s gestation). So they go to stay with Edward and his pregnant daughter, because this is the sort of contrivance that Wallis mistakes for believable plotting. This includes Suzie (Lara Jean Chorostecki), who announces that she is lesbian, and Laurel soon discovers this about herself, too.

This attempt at showing sexual fluidity might have seemed progressive, if it wasn’t written in such a convenient, overly obvious way and didn’t keep being brought up through ham-fisted dialogue and a slew of dated lesbian jokes. This includes one ill-begotten scene where an increasingly confused Edward accidentally walks in on them in bed when he is looking for his tie, and can’t remember the right word so he just keeps saying lesbian instead.

The entire film unfolds in this sort of awkward, haphazard way, as everything comes together exactly as you expect it will over the saccharine Christmastime finale. The story is broken up into different chapters that are all named after a different “defining moment,” and it feels like a collection of poorly written interludes that have been loosely strung together. There are ten chapters to be precise, followed by an epilogue, which is far too many for a scant 88 minute film.

Despite the best efforts of old veterans like Reynolds and Greene, the performances are mediocre at best, and Wallis’s script does the actors no favours. The characters are forced to speak in clunky dialogue, as they dole out cheesy Hallmark card wisdom about embracing life as it comes at you and that everything happens for a reason.

The film feels like a bad Lifetime TV movie, right down to the garish, overlit cinematography. But it’s the screenplay’s sugarcoated, borderline offensive treatment of mental illness and dementia that truly sinks it. Put simply, Defining Moments is a dud, and it ultimately feels like little more than a collection of ill-defined moments instead.

Defining Moments is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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