first-time writer/director jim Allodi has crafted a Canadian film with no death, no voyeurism and -- best of all -- no pretensions whatsoever. The Uncles is a graceful dramedy about the Toma family, which is uneasily led by eldest son John (Chris Owens, the X-Files' Agent Spender). In between trying to keep his soccer-loving brother Marco in college and his sister Celia from snatching babies off the street, John is having an affair with his boss's married daughter-in-law that's moving faster than he can negotiate.
With no hooks, stars or special effects, a film like this lives or dies on its writing and performances. Both are so understated in The Uncles that it's easy to overlook how sophisticated they are.
Each character has a distinct and original personality. Just when you think you've spotted a character type, like John's Italian restaurant owner boss, Allodi fleshes him out with unexpected humour or compassion.
Even the supposedly dumb characters have minds of their own. The actors, perfectly cast TV and theatre veterans, give relaxed, engaging performances. Allodi's own acting experience (The Newsroom, Five Senses) has clearly served him well.
The worst that can be said about The Uncles is that it was shot on digital video, a process that gives the cast more time to rehearse but also gives the audience an unnecessarily clear view of the lines on their faces.
The plot meanders, and viewers used to exhilarating twists and turns may find the drama in The Uncles too low-key. But my view is that this film is so smart, funny and well-acted that it just might restore your faith in Canadian cinema.
THE UNCLES written and directed by Jim Allodi, produced by Nick de Pencier, with Chris Owens, Tara Rosling, Kelly Harms and Veronika Hurnik. 94 minutes. A Runaway Goat production. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (June 29). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 96. Rating: NNNN