Entertainingly droll until it runs out of ideas and energy, Matt Bissonnette’s and Steven Clark’s “Looking for Leonard” revisits the familiar combination of foolish young hoods and unlikely love and sets it down in the less-familiar environs of the marginal side of Montreal. The overt quotations and borrowings from the deadpan stylings of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki are simultaneously a tribute to each auteur and a terrible handicap, since Bissonnette and Clark are still clearly interning and don’t seem to have many original ideas. Though a solid fest player, pic’s North American theatrical life will be strictly Canadian.
It appears unlikely that Luka (Joel Bissonnette), a Czech computer technician visiting Montreal, would run into Jo (Kim Huffman), the smart and cynical side of an amateurish trio of crooks including b.f. Ted (Ben Ratner) and his younger brother Johnny (Darcy Belsher). But meet they do, when Luka cooly observes Jo shoplifting in a pharmacy. They bond, with Luka learning a bit about Jo’s obsession with songwriter Leonard Cohen, even as Jo is growing detached from jealous Ted.
When Johnny spots Luka and Jo together, it leads to the first of a couple of action set pieces that the filmmakers visually distort with sudden freeze-frames that have the effect of positioning the movie between comedy and tragedy.
Watching Bissonette’s and Clark’s characters talk or — as is often the case, not talk — in blank, empty interior and exterior spaces is more interesting than witnessing their film peter out in a truly uninspired and contrived third act. While the cast, rounded off with some funny support from Molly Parker as a spiritually optimistic student in the fiction writing class Jo takes on the side, knows its way around deadpan, the approach becomes increasingly mannered and self-conscious, especially as the initial comic energy wanes.
In an excellent 35mm blow-up from Super 16, color lensing is carefully desaturated to convey the sheer dullness of these lives, with sound elements and music (by band Potastatic) used mostly in a sparing manner.
Filmmakers surely intended for insert clips (sans sound) of Cohen, from ’60s National Film Board of Canada docu “Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Leonard Cohen,” to be more amusing than really are, but footage is interesting in its own right, capturing the tunesmith as a suave man-about-town.