More than a few Americans despondent after George W. Bush’s re-election flirted with the notion of moving to Canada. It may have been a cockamamie idea, but for a fair portion of its running time, Marshall Lewy’s “Blue State” shows it’s certainly a prime premise for a comedy. As long as the tyro writer-helmer stays close to his Bay Area Yanks — played winningly by Breckin Meyer and Anna Paquin — the pic plays as a breezy, human road movie, only to stumble on cliches and strained satire once it crosses the border. Co-stars should guarantee some modest theatrical and ancillary traffic.
Foreign auds may also be fascinated by the phenomenon of liberal-left Americans following in the footsteps of Vietnam-era draft dodgers and migrating north. It’s a reasonable bet, though, that Canadians will look less kindly on “Blue State,” whose Canucks are summed up as nice, boring folks — many with an unresolved hippie streak — who live in cold, dull towns (such as Winnipeg) and spend their free time participating in curling matches.
Given the political convictions of John (Meyer), Bay Area coordinator for the Kerry campaign, whose world appears to crumble the day after the 2004 election, Bush is so evil that Canada seems the only escape. The ridiculous portrayals of Canadians are clearly contrived to send John back to the U.S. of A., but the conceit comes off as phony as John’s original impulse is authentic (if a touch misguided).
After placing ads for a riding partner, John finds Chloe (Paquin), who’s eager to hit the road. They’re too obviously an odd couple, though Meyer and Paquin’s pleasant chemistry eases the pic past the awkward Hepburn-Tracy-esque parts where there must, must, must be friction. (She’s a little spontaneous and eats meat; he’s Mr. Organization and a vegetarian and shuns gas stations pumping foreign oil.) Both have their secrets linked to the war in Iraq, which hovers over the film like an alien spaceship.
Pic suggests John is running away not so much from his country as from his right-wing, pro-war parents (Joyce Krenz, Richard Blackburn), the first in a string of characters who come off as cartoons rather than real folks. If John’s progenitors are stick figures, then “Marry-A-Canadian” website organizer Gloria (Adriana O’Neill) and her friends in Winnipeg are freaky Tex Avery cartoons, dashing to and fro. When John and Chloe set eyes on Gloria’s mixer party of Yanks and Canucks (all goofy, regardless of citizenship), it’s as if they’ve set foot on the moon.
It’s fair to ponder what might have happened had John and Chloe ventured to, say, the big cities of Toronto or Vancouver. Alas, by the third act, “Blue State” seems to have ventured a long way from its easygoing and entertaining early sequences.
Epilogue gives the pic a sweet sendoff, with a light pitch for young people to get involved in politics.
Paquin (who also serves as an exec producer) is light years from her “X-Men” stints, and her shaded perf here suggests she would do well to consider working more in the indie world. Meyer is even further from his sledgehammer comedy stylings, and portrays to a tee the conflicting feelings of an American liberal who thinks his country has let him down.
Lewy’s visual sense isn’t much to write home about, but he certainly earns marks for finding the right tone with his co-stars. Production elements are solidly pro, and for all the exaggerations, Canuck locales are smartly used.