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Published November 11th, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

Niagara Motel Review

Classification: 15 Director: Gary Yates Rating: 1.5/5

I never wanted to go down the Harry Knowles’ route of babbling on about what I ate on the morning of the screening but it is fair to say that the mood you are in when you see a film affects your reaction to it. Niagara Motel had the misfortune to be seen by me in a particularly foul temper, during one of the busiest and most stressful weeks I’ve ever had. I was really hoping that the film would lift me out of the mean reds, but, well, you’ll see.

Niagara Falls is a honeymoon town, promoted by the tourist board as a symbol of promise and new beginnings, and the film begins with this cheesy image, a smug voiceover recounting the history of the falls. However it rapidly moves to show an accidental death, boarded up shops and crappy diners before coming to rest at the Niagara Motel, and its tragic confused staff and guests.

First is Loretta. Pretty and pregnant, Loretta (Dhavernas) works at the motel’s diner; recently widowed and broke, she is tempted by Michael (Pollack), a small-town hustler who wants her to star in a series of porn films. Loretta is also being pursued by Dave (Barnett), who needs a girlfriend to impress his boss, and by Gilles (Daneau), the father of her baby and the best friend of Loretta’s husband, who was eaten by a bear.

Guests in the motel include Denise (Friel) and R.J. (Holden-Ried), who are in Niagara to try and regain custody of their daughter from social services. Denise is a recovering drug addict, R-J an ex-con, and they are desperate to prove that they are back on the straight and narrow. Down the row are Henry (Keleghan) and Lily (Crewson), a middle-class, middle-aged couple on the verge of bankruptcy. Henry, a white-collar manager, is unemployed, depressed and humiliated by the search for work which he considers beneath him. Things get more complicated when Lily, bitter and exasperated, makes friends with Sandy (Bridges), a local prostitute. If Sandy can make so much money, why shouldn’t Lily?

The problem that I had with Niagara Motel is that it just seems to be trying far too hard. The cast of whacky eccentrics and their unbelievable behaviour grates; it doesn’t come across as in any way real. It was based on a series of six plays which were popular in Canada in the 1990s and though the producers jettisoned three of the stories its possible that there was still too much material, so every story feels rushed and has no time to breathe.

Ironically, I expected to hate the Anna Friel segment but she is quite affecting, though her American accent slips a bit, she has thin white legs like a smack addict and looks sad and vulnerable. But of course the story has to spiral out of control ending in a ridiculous scene involving the social worker who has been assigned to Denise and RJ’s case.

The least irritiating storyline is that of Henry and Lily, but even then I was exasperated. Need money? Naturally your thoughts turn to prostitution. How about you pawn your rings? Get a waitressing job! Support your husband and stop being such a princess! Chuh. There are always jobs for people, always. They might not be great jobs, but if it’s a choice between that and losing everything… Similarly, why does Loretta even speak to sleazy Michael, and why on earth does she think that Dave will make a suitable co-star? Its just silly; these people are meant to be desperate, but they come across as ludicrous, and deserving of their fate.

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