One of the basic dilemmas that sells “Snow Cake” to its audience is, how do you make it painfully clear to a mentally ill person that their child has died? And how do you in turn react to their emotional response and lack thereof? Can you really force someone with a very limited mental capacity to feel the sorrow you do?
Evans’ “Snow Cake” is an awfully intimate dramedy that’s intent on getting us close enough to its characters so that we can feel what character Alex feels after he mistakenly ruins two lives on a road trip, and often it can work. The slim budget helps Rickman obtain a sense of an average personality, and his usual venerable persona is dialed down to portray a man who simply has to live with himself.
And the dig is that rather than share in his grief, and face the blame, and torment he feels he so rightfully deserves for the accident, he is given nothing, thus the weight of the tragedy he experiences belongs to him and him alone, while the victim seemingly feels absolutely nothing.
Alex must face the mother of a young hitchhiker he picked up on the way to Winnipeg. The grating but rather charming Vivienne (played with utter charisma and unkempt cutesiness by Emily Hampshire) interrupts his trip one day at a pit stop restaurant, and he takes a shine to her, picking her up and indulging her endless series of questions and random thoughts. As you’d guess, Pell brings us in closely to this young girl, and then completely wipes her off the screen in a sad and awfully wrenching car wreck.
“Snow Cake” isn’t a perfect film by any definition, it’s intent on grabbing us by the hearts from minute one, and can sometimes feel forced upon us, as if the sole intent is to gauge emotions rather than tell an actual story, thus Evan’s dramedy feels as if it’s constantly pitching us one sad tale after another. But on the bright side, Evans is a very skilled director who seems to be spreading his wings in terms of the film medium first tackling the brilliant horror film “My Little Eye,” and then completely drifting to this often affecting drama.
What makes “Snow Cake” so compelling is Alex’s relentless inadvertent journey to make amends for a mistake he blames others for, yet seems intent on making up for it himself. Since Linda Freeman, an autistic woman who lives and survives alone with care from neighbors, seems to be virtually unaffected, he is forced to stay and attempt to find some form of closure with Linda and his mistake.
In the process, he becomes Linda’s caretaker, and this is his retribution whether he realizes it or not. Weaver, a woman who has just been consistently underused in the past ten years only to be forgotten in indie films really does give a great performance as Linda, an autistic recluse who is intent on living her life on her own terms; Weaver and Rickman have excellent chemistry, and many of the scenes shared between the two are just priceless, including a Scrabble game that results in a moment of poignant bliss.
“Snow Cake” is a film on a constant rocky road. At times it seems so anxious to blatantly manipulate us into tears and slows down with Alex’s romance with a sexy neighbor a la Carrie Anne Moss, and then at times it’s beautiful, and intimate, and so wonderfully acted. But then, Rickman and Weaver sell it, and the utterly heart wrenching finale is the big pay off, and the experience is worth it.