The late Burt Reynolds passed away in September 2018. His final film, Defining Moments, gets a release this week, over three years after his death. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about Defining Moments. It’s a movie-of-the-week-grade Canadian film schlepped into commercial release amid the COVID-19 era BOGO sale in which distributors snapped up whatever junk was lingering on the shelves and delivered it to the stuck-at-home masses.
Reynolds plays Chester, a man who prophesizes that he’ll expire once the clock strikes his 80th birthday. It’s nine months away. Chester wants to use his final days to bond with his daughter, Marina (Polly Shannon). Nine months also mark the time that Laurel (Tammy Blanchard) gets to spend with her dad, Edward (Eric Peterson). Laurel, at 41, is unexpectedly pregnant. Edward, meanwhile, displays symptoms of early Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t take a discerning viewer to predict which two events will happen on the same night. Writer/director Stephen Wallis shows the ingenuity of a fortune cookie as Defining Moments runs with its when-one-door-opens-another-closes inspirational cheese.
Sex and Death
The film adds two other plots that intersect with the birth/death theme. Jack (Shawn Roberts) is having a thirty-something crisis. He tells his girlfriend, Terri (Kelly Van Der Burg) that he’d rather be castrated than have children with her. Kelly doesn’t take the news well, much to Jack’s surprise.
Then there’s Dave (Dillon Casey), a member of a group of American friends travelling through Unionville, Canada. (Why not?) He decides it’s a nice place to blow his head off. He misses, and ends up in a bizarre psychiatric hospital/cottage. His cohabitant patients are a grieving nymphomaniac and Katie Chats. His friends, one of whom is a lesbian, board at Edward’s house for the duration of Laurel’s pregnancy (?!). The aforementioned lesbian, playing a sort of queer Bagger Vance character, magically sets Laurel’s hormones into overdrive and opens her eyes to the rainbow coloured world around her.
These wannabe feel-good arcs supposedly all hinge on moments that define a person’s life. Wallis structures the film around significant “moments.” They’re signalled by chapter cards, yet all fail to register. Defining Moments, somehow, is both entirely on-the-nose and completely off-the-mark. Characters sprout inspirational potpourri and behave irrationally in intersecting vision quests about fate, destiny, and all that. The more the film strives for gravitas, the more inadvertently hilarious it becomes.
Defining Moments of Sloppiness
The film’s Zen aspirations are further evident in the garish high-key lighting with which Wallis saturates the frame. The bright lights accentuate the squeaky-clean production design as stories take audiences in and out of oversized kitchens auditioning for the next Nancy Meyers movie and living rooms art directed from the IKEA catalogue.
Defining Moments also shows numerous logical gaps in the scripting. A pregnancy features prominently in the film, yet Defining Moments shows hilarious ignorance of the birthing process as (spoiler alert!) Laurel manages to have her water break and give birth at the dining room table during Chester’s living wake while her father, post-Alzheimer’s reveal, delivers the baby before the food gets cold. Someone even tells Edward that women’s bodies don’t work that way when he suggests that Laurel pop the baby out right then and there. (The baby, not one to wait for Laurel to dilate, at least knows to get the hell out of the film quickly.) And this all happens in Ontario, Canada on an implausibly warm Christmas when nobody even needs a coat. There are many “defining moments” to be found here, but not one of them is positive.
The actors also can’t sell the material and, frankly, nobody could. Reynolds’ final performance isn’t enough to save Defining Moments from being another holiday turkey. He’s given little to do in this slice of overly precious hokum fuelled by Hallmark card one-liners and moments that are generally defined by unbearable awkwardness. It’s an effective reminder that even 89 minutes of life are too precious to waste.
Defining Moments is in digital release beginning Oct. 8.