Producer/director Brian Stockton pulls a reverse Ghost World with The Sabbatical, a low-key comedy where the older eccentric follows a current generation through a younger artist.
The wry James Whittingham plays Professor James Pittman. His portrayal is a cross between Brent Butt’s deadpan delivery with Napoleon Dynamite’s anxieties – the actor’s wit is impressive. After reflecting on his opinionated students and facility, an approaching sabbatical is a chance for James to rediscover creativity for an upcoming project. That is, until he’s reminded of a vasectomy appointment his wife insists he attends.
With the surgery looming, James meets Lucy (played by Laura Abramsen). Fitting a typical Pixie Girl character mould, Lucy convinces James to loosen up; an easy choice for the disappointed teacher who can’t escape his own banality.
Opposites attracting such as Professor Pittman being fascinated by Lucy and vice versa is nothing new, but the chemistry between Whittingham and Abramsen is what gives The Sabbatical life. It’s a coupling that shatters our expectations. They find ways to warm up to us and make us laugh. We’re then invited to look at them from a deeper perspective. The style, while modest, doesn’t manipulate us into thinking these things. It’s all thanks to Whittingham and Abramsen’s charming performances.
Whenever Pittman or Lucy become a third wheel in a situation, the amusement temporarily wears off as these characters face internal challenges (such as the struggle to understand potential romance). Quite frankly, I could’ve watched an entire movie where James and Lucy “crack wise” and then finally decide on an inevitable truth.
In a way, filmmaker Stockton does realize this and bounces his film back during those final scenes – nice save.
The Sabbatical screens at Toronto’s Canadian Film Festival on Friday, April 1 at 7:00 pm at The Royal Cinema.