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Drawn From a Hat TIFF Reviews: The Husband

09/13/2013 12:13 EDT | Updated 11/13/2013 05:12 EST

Drawn From a Hat TIFF Reviews: As part of our Spotlight on TIFF series, the HuffPost Blog Team bought a package of tickets for five random Canadian films (TIFF selected the movies). We then drew from a hat to determine which team members would see what. We did no prior research on the films, the idea being to see what would happen when we came to a movie with an open mind, unencumbered by preconceptions or baggage. Here is the second of the resulting reviews.(You can read the first review, of Hi-Ho Mistahey!, here.

I have never seen a Bruce McDonald film. I'm sorry. I hope this isn't going to be like the other day when I told people at a TIFF screening that I didn't see the big deal about Alice Munro. No one talked to me very much after that, and I'm fairly certain that there actually was toilet paper when the bathroom attendant told me they were out. But I will say that after watching The Husband, I would definitely see more of McDonald's work.

In this "dark comedy", Henry Andreas -- or Hank -- is a petite, painfully skinny ad exec. He hates his job, his coworkers and basically his entire life. It's not hard to see why. Henry is solely responsible for looking after his baby, Charlie, because his wife Alyssa is in jail. She is a former teacher incarcerated for having sex with her 14-year-old student. It's not a good time for Henry right now. Actually, the whole story is a lot more tragedy than comedy.

The film seems vaguely familiar, and not just because it's shot in Toronto. It channels -- if tenuously -- the brilliant Notes on a Scandal (2006), sadly minus the criminally clingy Judi Dench. But Henry, like Dench's character Barbara, becomes obsessive and stalks his 14-year-old "competition", waiting outside his school, following him on the street and showing up at his house. However, the film is different in that it lacks that sinister quality. Instead, Henry -- the stalker -- elicits only awkwardness and sympathy. Even a traffic policeman lets Henry go without a ticket upon learning who his wife is.

Before The Husband, my favourite "Toronto" TIFF movie was Atom Egoyan's strange endeavor Chloe (2009), which was filmed on my street in parts and featured bars I used to go to when I was of bar-going age. It was pretty much the closest I've been to a "Stars -- they're just like Us!" moment. But McDonald's film is much more gritty and relatable, without all the Hollywood gloss, especially when Hank shops for groceries at Honest Ed's under those terrible interrogation room tube lights.

The relatively unknown -- or maybe I should say unknown to me -- Maxwell McCabe-Lokos is very well cast as the perpetually hunched over, angry young father. Also the co-writer of the film, he conveys the unraveling of Henry Andreas very well and how the sudden stress of life in the public eye, raising a child alone and obsessing over the "other man" derails his life. He seems to be holding it together -- barely -- until his wife's release date from prison comes closer and closer. Confronted head on by the hurt and betrayal, Henry's quiet rage begins to consume him, and we are along for the ride.

TIFF Rising Star 2011 Sarah Allen (I thought at first it was Emma Stone) plays Alyssa, and is also a casting triumph. In spite of her bizarre and wildly inappropriate tryst, we can't quite hate her. Canadian heavyweight Stephen McHattie is strong but tempered as Alyssa's father. The 14-year-old jailbait I expected to be a smoldering, beautiful, precocious boy... you know, someone worth going to jail for. I didn't find that with this kid. But there's no accounting for taste.

This is a gripping, never boring film, and is a very manageable length at only 80 mins. But the one problem I have with The Husband is that it always seems to be taking you somewhere, and then it doesn't. Don't get me wrong: Unpredictability in a film is always good -- but not when it becomes mildly frustrating. It feels as though you are constantly on the brink of something huge, but really you aren't. The Husband is more character study than cohesive story.

Also, all movies, like all blog posts, do not deserve a happy ending. You'll have to go see it to know what I mean.