After dabbling with drama in the underrated Afghan Luke, Mike Clattenburg returns to the working class comedy of his most famous creation in Moving Day. Ok, so maybe working class is a bit generous when it comes to describing The Trailer Park Boys. Those characters wish they had their lives as in order as the folks in Clattenburg’s furniture moving comedy do, yet the world does feel similar. These are guys for whom life is defined by the joys of beer, insults, pizza, Pepsi, and creative swearing. However, Moving Day never quite reaches the dirtball anarchistic heights of that series at its best. Clattenburg is going for something far more gentle here, a sadsack comedy about a lovable loser who learns to believe in himself. Unfortunately, the director isn’t quite as comfortable with sentiment as he is with violence and vulgarity. This isn’t his best film to date, but judged on the not exactly high standards of light Canadian comedy, there’s certainly fun to be had.
Mad TV and Three Stooges vet Will Sasso stars as Clyde, a man of limited skills and low ambitions. He lives in an apartment filled with empty pizza boxes and an infestation of furry roommates. Clyde was married and has children, but that fell apart like most of his life. Now he makes a living moving furniture for Redmond’s, dreams of working construction for the city, and only seems to get pleasure out of chugging 2L bottles of cola. Hey, at least it’s a step up from his last gig washing dishes. Clyde works with the expected crew of goofballs and outcasts. There’s the wise n’ wise-cracking ex-con Ced (the always welcome Charlie Murphy), the alcoholic driver/ladies man AJ (Gabrielle Hogan), and Dennis (Jonny Harris), a part time wannabe rockstar and full time d-bag who mocks Clyde relentlessly. On the plus side, Clyde’s sister Lina (Gabrielle Miller) also works at Redmond’s and helps out her idiot bro when she can. After a morning of breaking his back lifting pianos and unfortunately breaking some furniture, Clyde tries to ask for some days off from his boss Wilf (Victor Garber) and ends up having to rat on one of his workmates just to get time off to spend with his kids. You see, Wilf has been cooking the books a bit insurance-wise and needs to cover his tracks. He promotes Lina to help, which only makes things worse for Clyde. Tensions rise over faulty business practices and clashing personalities. Hilarious insults are thrown around and eventually Clyde has to learn to stand up for himself.
It’s all pretty standard loser-makes-good comedy stuff and that’s the major drag of the movie. There are few scenes and twists that can’t be predicted a mile away. Clattenburg is working with some very familiar formulas here that for the most part didn’t need to be seen again. In particular, the joyous sentimental climax couldn’t feel more transcribed and false. The director has a sense of realistic banter and failure, using those tools to present outcasts honestly and with surprisingly little condescension. His sense of fantasy wish fulfillment doesn’t quite hold up as well. Thankfully, predictability is practically a genre requirement in these sorts of comedies, so it’s modestly forgivable. The strength of the movie lies in the interaction between the characters and eccentric performances, which the film has plenty of. Sasso is a wonderful gentle idiot lead, inherently likable and believably pathetic without begging for sympathy. As always, Charlie Murphy plays Charlie Murphy, but as a wise old friend with a tragic past and a way with filthy one-liners, the guy slots in quite nicely. His natural mixture of sweetness and meshes well with Clattenberg’s sensibilities and in a perfect world the guy will find his way into a certain trailer park one day. Victor Garber does his usual thing as the intimidating, but out of his depth boss and gets laughs while still providing a valuable service of grounding the movie amongst the more overtly comedic performers around him. Gabrielle Miller is a real pleasant surprise. She does her quirky/cute routine from Corner Gas, but adds in a darker edge in scenes that she never previously seemed capable of and holds her own in the improv marathons. Jonny Harris and Gabrielle Hogan are stuck with more one-note roles, yet fulfill their limited parts well and get the laughs that are needed.
Ultimately, Moving Day is a minor movie. It’s Clattenburg trying to be more consciously mainstream, while still retaining a sense of awkward realism, eccentric characterization, and bizarre cultural observations. When he tries to be sweet and sincere, he’s not terrible at it, but Moving Day is geared too much to those tear-jerking impulses. The sentimental scenes often derail the film and had Clattenburg instead made a more rambunctious and filthy comedy set in this world with moments of humanistic levity, it could have sat comfortably next to his best work. That didn’t happen though, so it’s a bit of a failed experiment in populist comedy from a more comfortably cult comedy mind. Still, there are plenty of hilarious scenes throughout, a few intriguingly bizarre dream sequences, and some great performances. There’s enough to enjoy here to weigh towards the positive, it’s just a shame that the director didn’t play more to his strengths given that more trash-talking intoxicated antics wouldn’t exactly feel out of place in a world of furniture movers. Ah well, hopefully Clattenburg learns from the mistakes and either gets better at tugging on heartstrings or learns to ignore that impulse. Hard edge filth and sickly sweet sentiment are strange bedfellows and it’s probably best if he pick one or the other.