The Exchange is pitched as a film by Borat co-writer Dan Mazer. The ad campaign conveniently omits Mazer’s more recent effort Dirty Grandpa, a hard-R gross-out comedy that was dragged by critics and audiences alike although I feel like those reactions were over-the-top and unnecessary. This exclusion, though, may not be because of Dirty Grandpa’s negative reception, but because The Exchange has more in common with Borat – to an extent.
Setting the scene in Ontario during the 80s, The Exchange has some really funny satire about inappropriate gestures stemming from allegedly good intentions. One of the film’s story threads involves a quirky-n-quaint town council searching for a theme for an annual parade. With the arrival of a French foreign exchange student charming the pants off of everyone, the theme is narrowed down to a self-congratulatory ribbon for the city’s diversity. A big laugh comes when the council approaches the local dentist, who’s of Egyptian descent, and asks where he’s from. The unimpressed dentist utters “Ottawa”. Another laugh happens when the council acknowledges the problematic history of Hitler’s regime, only to be distracted by a Stanley Cup win that happened around that time. This humour rides on stereotypes and dim behaviour, but its context provided by screenwriter Tim Long (a long-time producer of The Simpsons) and Mazer’s comedic timing sends home the laugh. Though, Canadians may be the only people truly appreciating the humour.
The Exchange isn’t primarily about the city council, and it isn’t really about Stéphane the foreign exchange student either (played hilariously by Avan Jogia). The movie focuses on Tim (Ed Oxenbould of The Visit), an awkward film aficionado who welcomes Stéphane into his home hoping to make a friend. The relationship that evolves between Tim and Stéphane is a typical fish-out-of-water dynamic with some genuine giggles when Stéphane crosses personal boundaries. Oxenbould plays a good straight-man in this routine, but there isn’t much more to his character other than being stunned and baffled, while dropping some obscure film facts. The movie doubles down on its basic qualities when the primary focus shifts to a will-they-won’t-they romance between Tim and the equally dorky Brenda (Jayli Wolf).
The adults in The Exchange are far more interesting than the teens, except during some creepy sexual tension created by a smug gym teacher (Justin Hartley, last seen in TV’s This Is Us and the eye candy in A Bad Moms Christmas). Mazer’s movie is a decent comedy, but I wish more time was dedicated to the clumsy council. The character of Stéphane is funny, but his “funny foreigner” schtick isn’t fresh. The adults, on the other hand, are the characters sitting on a comedic treasure trove that the film doesn’t tap into enough.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie