Vaguely reminiscent at times of cult classics like “Office Space” and “Napoleon Dynamite” yet retaining a deadpan sensibility all its own, “Things to Do” works more effectively as a pure comedy than as a story of personal growth. Affectionate two-hander ultimately takes one too many swigs of feel-good tonic, but the nicely synchronized lead performances and writer-director Theodore Bezaire’s sharp eye for the odd comic throwaway generate enormous reserves of goodwill. Commercial prospects look optimistic, as do further crowd-pleasing stops on the festival circuit.
Without a word of explanation — likely because he doesn’t know why himself — gloomy twentysomething Adam Stevenson (Mike Stasko, who co-scripted and co-edited with Bezaire) abruptly leaves his soul-sucking city job and returns home to the rural town where he grew up. There, he awkwardly reunites with his confused and somewhat resentful parents (Pat McManus and Joanne Oke); longtime crush Julie (Amy Ballantyne); and Mac, an old school friend who, as riotously played by Daniel Wilson, shifts the comic momentum into high gear.
Mac, a public urinator, occasional exhibitionist and master of screaming the obvious, is nonetheless extremely likeable, and while Adam at first regards him as an eccentric cling-on, the two sink almost effortlessly into a rock-solid friendship that is the key to the whole picture.
Mac’s daredevil streak has a rejuvenating effect on Adam, who is inspired to compose a list of “things to do” before the end of his life and invites Mac to help him accomplish each one. Most of the items on the list — making an amateur horror movie, or using firecrackers to blow up their old report cards — are tossed off in quick, sharply edited montage. Others, like building a soapbox racecar and getting even with a former high school bully (Santo D’Asaro), unexpectedly force them to engage with the people around them and also work through a brief spat, without which, of course, this wouldn’t be a real buddy movie.
Ultimately a story of how Adam gets his groove back, “Things to Do” achieves a shrewd synergy between narrative arc and visual style, with mostly static shots in the first half giving way to more mobile camerawork in the second as the hero is figuratively set free.
Pic doesn’t need its cryptic flashbacks to Adam’s life as a corporate drone to explain his depressive mood. Cheerful, life-affirming ending all but sinks under the weight of tidy resolutions, but manages to be affecting all the same.
Muted yin to Wilson’s boisterous yang, Stasko comes through with a thoroughly unselfconscious performance that at once is engaging and recessive.
Shot on high-def Super 16 by Eric Schiller, pic looks good except for the few grainy nighttime sequences.