The problem with Canadian films is that they try too hard to be American, or they’re too Canadian to appeal to a wider audience. “Highway 61” (1990) could be thought of as a precursor to “Pulp Fiction” but no one saw it, and when “Cube” was released a couple of years ago to acclaim, it was mercilessly compared to “Pi.” It says something that the most popular film to come out of Canada was “Porky’s.” If there’s one genre that might be considered uncharted territory for Canadian film it’s the romantic-comedy and now we get “The Art of Woo.” Problem is, it’s just a low rent knockoff of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Alessa Woo(former MuchMucic VJ Sook-Yin Lee) is an underdog from Toronto who dreams of marrying a rich guy, or to be more exact, she dreams of being a modern day incarnation of Audrey Hepburn. To get the rich boyfriend, she pretends to be a rich Hong Kong debutante and tries to fit in with the beautiful people of high society. Predictably, the first guy she traps isn’t rich at all, but a total scumbag(Don McKellar). Then she meets the man of her dreams; a bright young artist(Adam Beach) and a tenant in her building. The guy has everything, except money, and then, guess what happens? A rich guy falls in love with Alessa and quickly proposes. Does she choose love or money?
There have been many a successful romantic-comedy made from lesser plots than “The Art of Woo” but rarely do they appear as sluggish and as graceless as this film. The plot of “The Art of Woo” is so needlessly complicated that it just poisons everything. That’s not to mention the predictability of the story. Is it any surprise that Ben(Beach) has some connection with Alessa’s rich new fiancé? A better romantic-comedy would offer a myriad of pleasant distractions, but “The Art of Woo” is rather barren. The “forced quirkiness” of the film and the way it telegraphs every move really inspires resentment.
There’s a desperation at the screenplay level here. As “The Art of Woo” struggles to get off the ground, the film switches back and forth, from deep emotions to light comedy to being quirky. It’s as if Director Helen Lee was trying to throw everything at the wall and hoping that something would stick. That’s how it feels for the viewer.
Is there anything good in the film? Yes, there’s Adam Beach, he’s good. He’s a very striking young actor, and there’s something going on with him. You might remember him from “Smoke Signals” where he showed good comic timing. The fact that he’s Native-American, a rare species in Hollywood, makes him stand out even more. Beach is the kind of exotic, charming presence who makes you wish he had better dialogue to say and a better movie to say it in.
But let’s be honest here. Films like “The Art of Woo” are basically sample reels. To be fair, on the basis of this work, you could say that writer-director Helen Lee knows how to frame a scene, and work well with actors, despite a weak script. Maybe Lee will use this and go on to make a good film which “The Art of Woo” is most certainly not. Lee has, if nothing else, made a professional looking film(on a budget of $450,000) and she certainly shows a willingness to use every trick in the romantic-comedy book. This one just doesn’t have enough woo, or woo that’s new.