By Philip Clarke
CALGARY – When his estranged father unexpectedly dies, Ken (Justin Bartha) begrudgingly returns back to his old town to take care of business. It’s there he attends the booze-soaked wake held by his father’s upper crust golf buddies. Said awkward get-together is spearheaded by the unapologetically boorish Jeff (Bruce Greenwood), whose high-energy immediately clashes with Ken’s generally disaffected slacker vibes.
Sorry For Your Loss is a charming story about fatherhood that’s delicately balanced between old and new. While never really knowing his father, Ken also struggles with being a newfound parent in his own right to his infant son, whom he raises with his loving and jocular wife, Lori (Inbar Lavi).
Throughout Bartha’s career he’s had the relatively thankless task of appearing in supporting roles in several films, but unfortunately never seems to have gotten his real proper deserved due until now. In 2003’s dreadfully awful Gigli, he played the mentally challenged Brian, who’s horribly taken advantage of by Larry (Ben Affleck) at every single possible turn.
A year later, he stole all his scenes as the adorkably awkward Riley Poole in National Treasure. While a bright spot there to be sure, and in its much-maligned sequel (of which he originally shared the screen for the first time with Greenwood), those films are generally more so remembered as being forgettable Nicholas Cage family-action-vehicles from the mid-aughts. While he was indeed integral to the plot of The Hangover as the missing groom, Doug, he was largely absent for much of the surprise box-office smash’s screen time, and therefore significantly upstaged by his own co-stars as a result.
With Sorry For Your Loss, first-time feature writer/director Collin Friesen tells a well-worn story, but provides fresh insight into the dramatic proceedings by wisely letting his actors take the centre stage for three main reasons. The film is at its best when Bartha is given free reign to play up all of his esoteric quirks and mannerisms to maximum comedic effect. The thing that he does so well in many of his roles is getting away with layer upon layer of low-key passive sarcasm. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that Bartha was born to be snarky. Many of the best moments in the film are based solely around his reactions to other characters or events that he experiences, all the while musing or mumbling something quietly under his breath.
Oftentimes, countless films in the genre ring hollow or false, in regards to the relationship between its two romantic leads. Bartha’s chemistry with Lavi here always works without fail. Whether in person, or through an iPad FaceTime chat, together they feel equal parts authentic and genuine.
The third and final selling point is that of Canada’s own secret weapon, Greenwood, who utterly chews the scenery here. He’s clearly having a ball playing the overbearingly, passive-aggressive lothario as a narrative counterpoint to Ken.
Sorry For Your Loss is a simple and pleasant story told well, mainly thanks to the performances of its three leads.
Sorry for Your Loss screens as part of the Calgary International Film Festival. The film will have its world premiere at Eau Claire Cineplex on September 21 at 6:30pm, as well as an encore screening on September 23 at 1:15pm. Director Collin Friesen and producer Tony Wosk will be in attendance.Calgary International Film Festival, CIFF, Collin Friesen, Eau Claire Cineplex, Gigli, Justin Bartha, Sorry for Your Loss, Tony Wosk