The latest low-budget pic from the Feature Film Project, the indie production center tied to Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre, “Shoemaker” is a modest, endearing film that makes the most of its limited financial resources thanks to some strong perfs by a number of seasoned Canadian legit thesps. But Colleen Murphy’s feature bow lacks the force and innovative style of earlier Feature Film Project offerings like “Rude” and “House,” resulting in a tough sell both in the domestic Canuck market and internationally.
This tale of a lonely, slow-witted shoe repairman is initially intriguing, but the less-than-enthralling story loses its edge along the way. Carey (Randy Hughson), the not-too-bright shoe-polisher, and Paul (Hardee T. Lineham), the store’s bookkeeper, work in a musty old shop called Mr. Happy Shoe Repair, and Paul feels it’s his duty to constantly look out for his low-IQ colleague. Carey met a woman a few days earlier, but he was too shy to go out for coffee with her , and so he places a personal ad in an attempt to find her.
The ad does the trick, with Anna (Alberta Watson) showing up at Mr. Happy’s, and she and Carey head out on an unusual date, which ends with a skate around the ice at a deserted Maple Leaf Gardens. After shooting some pucks, Carey is overtaken by the emotion of the moment and aggressively starts kissing Anna, which prompts her to flee.
She eventually relents, returning to have her shoes mended at the shop, thus launching an unlikely romance which so steams Paul that he does his best to break up the union.
Jaan Kolk’s script is a slender slice of writing, and Murphy isn’t able to transform it into a satisfactory bigscreen drama. The quirky humor is more striking for its originality than for its ability to generate laughs. Murphy’s most notable achievement here is her ability to sustain the atmosphere of isolation and loneliness without descending to cheap melodrama.
Hughson plays Carey with no small amount of finesse, carefully avoiding the maudlin; Watson makes Anna seem enticing and vulnerable; and Lineham is rock-solid as Carey’s confused friend.
Christophe Bonniere’s camera captures the harsh bleakness of an anonymous suburb in the throes of wintry Canadian weather. Bill Thompson’s music is occasionally too conventional for this quirky story.