Where do I start with this? There are just so many things right with this film, I’m wondering to myself if I’ve been hoodwinked by Zach Braff’s charm or if this film truly is as good as I think it is. I’m going with the latter.
The story revolves around Henry Welles (played by the lovable Zach Braff) a small time drug dealer who spends his life dishing out prescription drugs, chain-smoking and partying to his heart’s content. Welles’ life is thrown into turmoil as Welles literally collides with our leading lady Nathalie (Isabelle Blais). Nathalie and Henry’s lives are then intertwined as Henry begins to feel guilt about his actions and desperately tries to redeem himself and becomes an unlikely protector for Nathalie. Meanwhile he continues to harbour his secret as she continues to carry her dead offspring refusing to give birth to a stillborn.
The pair bond as Nathalie’s depression leads to a chasm between her and her cold hearted husband who appears to be more interested in his work than both his wife and his baby. This opens a door to a possible romance for our leading pair something that we both root for and dread, knowing full well that Welles’ secret will no doubt lead to a disaster.Slowly but surely Nathalie and Henry get closer and closer, eventually reaching the tender moment atop a rooftop in snowy Montreal (pictured below).
The film boasts a powerful message, don’t run from your wrongdoings but instead face them. My favourite line of the film is delivered by Braff, stating – “Really you’re just the sum total of a bunch of bad decisions and stupid behaviour”. It carries a resonance because it shows that we are all human and everyone makes mistakes, it is the way that you deal with them that shows your true character.Their possible romance is short lived as the truth about Nathalie’s accident is revealed and Welles battles with his conscience debating whether to run and hide or face it head on. He reaches his decision after a late night drive towards his original home of New York, he attempts to have a cigarette but his lighter will not light, as such he takes this as a sign that what he is doing is wrong and travels back to Montreal to face Nathalie.
It is the powerful message, good writing and great acting that carry this film as the low budget does affect the camera work. Instead of stunning visuals the director Deborah Chow chooses to instead use general framing and cutting to deliver us the film we see. However what she does shoot she shoots well, the film appears polished and despite the budget it is edited well, mostly hiding the few flaws of the lack of aesthetics. The most visually striking scene is the aforementioned rooftop scene. Luckily for Chow the city of Montreal chose to deliver her a night of consistent snowfall which led to as Braff describes as “a surprise when [he] saw it in the movie how pretty it looked and how sweet it is and how bizarre it is that they’re sitting in this freezing cold on a rooftop, toasting marshmallows in a snowstorm”
One criticism of The High Cost of Living is that it relies on its one main plot and has no secondary elements to keep the film varied; despite their performances it is still a huge task to keep an audience entertained to what is essentially a film with two people. There are hints of other storylines coinciding with Welles’ drug dealing life including the hospitalisation of Lillie and an exploration of how Welles came to be where he was could have been included to change the pace and give the audience a break from the pair.
For Braff there is not even a hint of the quirky character he played in scrubs. Instead he plays the gritty, silent drug dealer role well, focusing on his emotional range rather than reducing his character to funny quips. Alongside the French-Canadian film star Blais, the pair have an awkward chemistry that works well on screen and fits in particularly well with the storyline.
For a film with a measly budget of only $1,000,000, it is refreshing to see a film so well made on so little. With the pulling power of Zach Braff and an intriguing storyline it is no wonder that I have come to adore this film. Whilst the ratings on IMDB (6.9/10) and the star rating of Netflix (4/5) it comes across that The High Cost of Living is an average film. This could not be further from the truth for me; I am giving this film a 9/10 and would definitely recommend it to anyone. Once again Netflix has delivered to me a hidden gem of a film.