Canada has proven itself to be the breeding ground for some of the world’s greatest comedic actors. Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Leslie Nielsen and Dan Aykroyd are only a handful of these actors. What ends up happening, however, is that Canadian actors do not achieve mainstream success until they appear in film and television produced south of the border, making such productions non-Canadian. The big question is what exactly constitutes a Canadian film? Is it its cast, financing, filming location or all of the above? The following four successful comedies help answer this important question for not only Canadian comedy, but for our film industry as a whole.
Directed by Ivan Reitman in 1979, Meatballs is about the trials and tribulations of camp counsellors at a summer camp and introduced Bill Murray in his first starring film role. It was filmed near Haliburton, Ontario with a Canadian director, an all-Canadian supporting cast and was backed financially by a Canadian production company. Despite its low budget, it was well-received by critics and was successful at the box office, mostly due to Murray’s popularity from Saturday Night Live at the time. This success led Reitman and Murray to work together on American comedies Stripes and Ghostbusters to name a few. Unlike most Canadian films that are filmed in Canada but set in the U.S., Meatballs actually takes place in Northern Ontario and can be seen as a homage to the summer in the North. Camp North Star, here I come!
Porky’s might not be the best film to come out of Canada, but it was (and remains) one of the most successful. The raunchy comedy, about a group of Florida teens who plan to lose their virginity and get into mischief, has led the way for the many teen films to come decades later (American Pie, anyone?). The problem is that there really is nothing Canadian about this film at all. Everyone involved, including the cast, are mostly American and it was filmed in Miami, Florida. It’s considered Canadian because of Astral Media, the Canadian production company that financed the film. Still, it introduced some interesting phone gag material to a whole new generation of teens (“Is Michael Hunt here? Has anybody seen Mike Hunt?” It really never gets old).
Juno is one of my all-time favourite films and the fact that it is a Canadian effort makes me like it even more. The film centres on Juno, a high school student who is forced to deal with an unplanned pregnancy and the situations that come along with that. It went on to win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and was nominated for many more. While it received continued praise when it premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and beyond, it didn’t come without controversy. Juno received no nominations from the Genie Awards. Despite its two Canadian leads in Ellen Page and Michael Cera, its Canadian Director, Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman) and its Vancouver filming location, the film was financed by a U.S. production company. Reitman talked about the snub in interviews and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television responded by saying the film was not even submitted for consideration. Regardless, because it was not financed in part by a Canadian source, it most likely would not have passed Genie eligibility criteria anyway. I think we can all still agree that Juno is a Canadian film at heart.
Goon is a definite step in the right direction for Canadian comedy and the Canadian film industry as a whole. You can’t really get more Canadian than this film. The story centres on Canadian minor league hockey as Doug (Sean William Scott) is recruited to play as an enforcer in Halifax. It doesn’t shy away from its inherent Canadian-ness. This can be attributed to writers Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, who have made names for themselves above and below the border (along with their good friend Seth Rogen). Despite his continued success in Hollywood, Baruchel in particular has always stuck to his Canadian roots. The film is an all-out Canadian effort except for its American leads. Just the fact that Canadian films are increasingly attracting more American talent says something about the direction our film industry is taking. This is especially the case when you look at the Canadian films that premiered at TIFF 2013 and the international talent involved. From the looks of things, the only thing differentiating Canadian and American cinema these days seems to be its financing. This, coupled with the increasing amount of talent coming from Canada, is a sign of good things to come.