By: Trevor Chartrand
In Sorry for Your Loss, a humble everyman with a dead-end job (Justin Bartha), learns of his estranged father’s death shortly after the birth of his own son. In order to claim a sizable inheritance, he’s tasked with spreading his father’s ashes on the playing field of his dad’s favorite football team. The closer Ken (Bartha) gets to the stadium though, the more he learns about his dad and the pathetic legacy he left behind. With each new discovery, Ken begins to paint a mental picture of the kind of father he doesn’t want to be.
As a dramedy, the laughs are sparse in this film, but the dramatic elements of Sorry for Your Loss are where it’s at anyway. This film is about more than making you laugh. The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to keep the story (mostly) grounded in reality, which heightens the dramatic hold the film will have.
It’s impressive to see so much restraint from the feature film debut of writer/director Collin Friesen – he keeps his ambitions in check and doesn’t allow things to get too broad in his first full-length movie. There’s one goofy character and subplot that stretches reality a little, but otherwise Sorry for Your Loss is a masterclass in restraint.
As far as casting goes, the performance from Justin Bartha is pretty typical here – he’s his usual self as the sarcastic straight-man throughout the film. To his credit, the chemistry with his wife (played by Inbar Lavi) is very well-crafted. The two of them play exhausted new parents in a trusting, comfortable relationship effortlessly. They are both playful and insecure with themselves and each other in every scene they share. This is especially commendable since they are separated for most the film, performing to a FaceTime chat. Odds are they had to play off each other without the other actor even on set for some scenes.
Bruce Greenwood also stands out in his performance, cast against type in this film as a colorful wiseass with just a hint of sleaze. The actor’s charm and inviting smile usually lands him a lot of father-figure type roles; as Captain Pike in Star Trek (2009) or as the President in the National Treasure series, for example. In Sorry for Your Loss though, we see a new side of Greenwood as a disgusting scumbag with a good heart. Certainly a smart decision by the casting department, because if not for this preconceived positive image of Greenwood, this character would been unlikable and irredeemable from the word go.
What’s most gripping about Sorry for Your Loss is it’s thematic balance and consistency. From the start we see Justin Bartha’s character Ken struggling as a new dad, and on his journey he’s given the opportunity to make all the same mistakes his father made. The character arcs are small, incremental even, in this movie, and that’s what I appreciate most about it. The writing stays focused in tone and theme throughout and, it’s that consistency that makes this film a classic example of the ‘keep it simple’ mantra being used to great effect.
So while it may not be a laugh-a-minute comedy, Sorry for Your Loss still has plenty of poignancy. It’s a revelatory drama about parenthood and family legacy that does exactly what it sets out to do, with a few funny highlights all along the way. You can’t ask for or expect any more than that – it’s a film that accomplishes its goals in some very effective ways. Friesen shows a lot of promise here, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from him.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor