There's something almost weirdly chaste about the Canadian romantic comedy "90 Days" (Los Feliz, Monica 4-Plex). It's a movie about cross-cultural romance and the perils of modern masculinity. It's done on such a minimalist scale, and with a pace that initially seems so deliberate and lethargic that some audiences might grow impatient with it. They may wonder why the movie doesn't open up, get more expansive; vary its carefully composed camera setups and almost too-modulated performances.
Yet "90 Days" has unexpected rewards. The story follows two warring male buddies bound together in the classic romantic-cynic relationship. Blue (Stefan Wodoslawky) is a tender idealist; Alex (Sam Grania) something of a callous stud.
As we observe them, Blue has apparently found his ideal woman--a Korean, Hyang-Sook (Christine Pak), located through a mail-order bride service called Cherry Blossoms. (She is in Canada on a 90-day visa and, after three months, the two of them must marry or part.) Alex has been tossed out on his ear by both wife and mistress and, holed up a hotel, he's being pursued by the elegantly sexy representative of an artificial insemination service. (A final blow comes when he is informed that his donation is unusable because of "lazy sperm.")
This is an unusually gentle film: unforced, quiet, humane. Part of the reason for that is the unique strategy of director Giles Walker. Like Britain's Mike Leigh ("Bleak Moments," "4 Days in July"), Walker works here without a conventional screenplay--just a story outline that his cast develops and embroiders with improvised dialogue. Many of the scenes have an eerie semblance of actual conversation. The dialogue has the pauses, repetitions and dead ends of real talk, and the mostly nonprofessional actors give relentlessly unactorish performances.
If the film sometimes seems slight, it also has a curious fascination. Walker--and his producer-editor David Wilson--are interested in giving a more-real-than-normal edge to their story of interracial romance and male bonding. And, quite often, they do.
There are things about "90 Days" that are off-putting. At a wedding where only six or seven characters show up, minimalism seems to have been carried too far. The fact that the gentle Blue narrates and discusses the entire story begins to seem peculiar: Why is he recounting Alex's adventures as well as his own?
But, in general, the purity of the story and the honesty of the dialogue stimulates you. The little eddies and currents of the love affair--and the funny-sad absurdity of Alex's encounters with the sperm bank representative (Fernanda Tavares)--never tip into exaggeration. All the actors--especially Wodoslawsky, Grana and Tavares--get a consistent, smoothly maintained tone of casual realism, and because of that, they amuse and affect you.
Using only improvised dialogue has its perils. It can begin to seem too real, too repetitive. You begin to long for the crispness and conciseness of the more common dramatic stylizations. But, overall, "90 Days" is provocative and different. Less memorable than its spareness or minimalism is the fact that it was done in a truly innovative style--one that lets an illusion of reality seep right through the frames of the film.