Documentary that examines myths about Canada ends up creating as many stereotypes as it tries to explode, writes Jay Stone
Featuring: Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Seth Rogan, Will Arnett, the Barenaked Ladies
Directed by: Robert Cohen
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Running time: 90 minutes
By Jay Stone
Whatever comedy there remains to be mined from the world’s alleged ignorance about Canada — stupid Europeans who think we live in igloos, or solipsistic Americans who believe our population is 8,000 — is pretty well beaten to death in Being Canadian, a documentary that aims to dispel stereotypes by making more of them.
It’s a project of Robert Cohen, a Calgary-born writer of U.S. sitcoms (The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory) who takes a cross-Canada trip and consults an impressive roster of the usual suspects. Everyone from Alex Trebek to the Barenaked Ladies talks about why we apologize so much or what it was about the Beachcombers that kept it on TV for so long. Anyone still amused by tales of people who say “I’m sorry” to a couch when they bump into it (a Catherine O’Hara anecdote) or enlightened by the old next-door-to-the-elephant cultural analysis of Canadian heroes (“If we had Walt Disney we would have had Davey Crockett,” says comic Dave Foley, interviewed by Cohen as they both lie topless in bed) will be astounded.
For the rest of us, bludgeoned by years of Rick Mercer’s fish-in-a-barrel expose of American ignorance — when he would ask passersby in the streets of New York what they thought of Prime Minister Jean Poutine — it’s just another shallow, easy, and small-time immersion in the sort of nationalistic navel-gazing most people outgrew years ago. That mythic American who thinks it snows all year in Toronto is as much a fairy tale as the Canadian who carries a canoe on his head, and indeed, Cohen has to go all the way to Las Vegas to find a couple of young women (who seem to have had a few too many complimentary cocktails) to make fun of because they think we’re a country of a few hundred.
Being Canadian is structured as a weeklong, cross-country jaunt that stops in random cities and ends in Vancouver in time for Canada Day. For some reason, it passes through Ottawa in winter, perhaps so we can have people skating on the Rideau Canal and talking about how they like to drink maple syrup straight from the bottle: Cohen constructs as many clichés as he explodes. By the time we hit the west coast, Cohen has tackled scores of questions (why do we have two football teams named the Rough Riders?) that are variously out of date, moot, pointless, familiar or simply not asked much any more.
The roster of interviewees — William Shatner Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Aykroyd, Kim Campbell, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Mike Myers and more — is fleshed out by comic actors Kathy Griffin and Ben Stiller, whose qualifications are that they have known Cohen for years. That seems to be the point of Being Canadian: Cohen has access to lots of famous people. They just don’t have much new to say.
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