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Goin' Down The Road  

Goin' Down the Road is a Canadian film made during a rather unfortunate time in the Canadian film industry. Back in the 1970`s, government protectionism was not nearly as strong as it is now, and therefore Canadian films were few, and cheap. Goin' Down the Road was one of them, produced in 1970 and considered by many to be the greatest English-Canadian film ever produced.

The story involves Pete and Joey, from Nova Scotia, who dream of a better life beyond the hardship and unemployment indicative of the Maritimes. As the movie begins, we see them drive off into the great unknown that is Toronto, and prosperity. However, the job and the home they were promised don`t come through. They are forced to work on the same kinds of jobs they left home to get away from. One of their jobs is in a bottling plant, where in a great scene, Pete calculates how many bottles they stack in a run of a week, suggesting plainly this job results in nothing. Pete wishes he did something which would actually create results, the kind in which everyone would see Pete, as opposed to anyone else, accomplished this. Despite their best efforts, though, Pete and Joey see little else but despair in front of them.

Accuracy is what this film strives for, often to a fault. There is no way anyone could look at this picture without believing it is genuinely Canadian, but it is self-consciously so that it often drains the life out of it. The road is paved with numerous familiarities or cliches, depending on how you relate to what`s on screen. The first thing I noticed was these two Maritimers' accent, which has this almost confident inability to form the th- sound at the beginning of the appropriate words. I know myself that I work with people with this similar peculiarity, and all I think about is, how difficult could th- be? I grew out of saying dis and dat in Grade one! We also have, of course, the obligatory scenes of drinking and associated tomfoolery.

The most noticeable element of the film is the treatment of women. The men, and for all I know, the screenwriter as well, see women as actual people about as well as I comprehend the new Triple Cheeseburger I`ve heartily eaten from Wendy`s was once a living, breathing creature. And in one case, we are treated to a cultural stereotype as well in the presence of a woman who does payroll at the bottling plant. She is a youthful French woman named Nicole, with enormously large breasts and apparently little else, for she is depicted as nothing more than a sex object to be fawned over. Pete, amazingly, actually gets a date with this woman, but at the end of the night is terribly disappointed because Nicole doesn`t invite him inside for what he hoped would be great sex. His casual obscenity (guess which one?) is a cold sign of the attitude prevalent in the picture. Other outings with women do nothing but bore him, provoking him to say at one point "All they do is talk, talk, talk!!" And when Joey does find love, and wants to get married, Pete considers this an act of betrayal of him and the purpose of finding success in the big city. A woman can only create hardship. No mention is made of the possibility that a woman would more likely be an ally in this struggle, as a man would be, instead of a liability. Indeed, the ending seems to be a bit of confirmation for Pete, and a cruel act for any sensible viewer.

The essential problem of this film is that it puts more effort trying to be Canadian than to be a great story. The script doesn`t have very much bite to it, and misses out on a lot of opportunities by not following through on anything other than the obvious. Sure, lots of people probably do what these characters do, but there is no explanation or psychological examination of this. Nobody in the script writing department has the courage to criticize this characters, in the fear of offending the common folk these characters represent. This is the Great Canadian experience, so to color these people with a less than sympathetic eye is akin to treasonous acts. In a way, this is no different from those Communist era pictures, promoting the glory of the homeland and the peasants who keep it going through sheer simplicity. Gosh, wouldn`t it be wonderful to be like these simple folks: they work with their hands, create plain conversation, drink a lot, and use women like cats use scratching posts. God Save The Queen!

To be fair, this was a highly praised film in 1970, so much so that even "Siskel and Ebert" put it on their Top Ten list for that year. In such a year, a film which actually depicted the strife of the unemployed and underemployed would be truly unique, as many other Hollywood and non-Hollywood films were at the time. But nowadays we would expect something more, and so while this is valuable as a Canadian cinematic relic, Goin' Down the Road must be seen for what it is: a noble but flawed effort.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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