First of all, it’s not about what you think.
While the title of the film may sound eerily like some vague attempt to capitalize on the current pandemic, Canadian Strain has nothing to do with any viral outbreak. Written and directed by Geordie Sabbagh, Canadian Strain tells the story of young cannabis dealer Anne Banting (Jess Salgueiro), who takes pride in her work and believed that the legalization of marijuana would only help her business. However, when her customers begin to abandon her for legal distributors, Anne finds that her decade as a dealer matters little in the new reality. Now, with no money, no direction, and some worthless weed, Anne is forced to confront the system while trying to hold on to what she loves.
Billed as a comedy, Strain is more dramatic than one might expect as Anne attempts to deal with the difficulties of life transition. As a result, Strain becomes a surprisingly fun little film about the challenges that happen when corporations infringe on small businesses, even as it relates to the drug trade. While the script is a little uneven in places, some intriguing engaging performances keep the film moving along. In particular, relative newcomer Salgueiro brings a genuine likeability to her overwhelmed Anne as she attempts to navigate the new realities of drug distribution. Another standout is comic veteran Colin Mochrie (Who’s Line is it Anyway?), who brings charisma and humility to his performance that helps ground the film.
In some places, the film seems interested in speaking into the ironies and hypocrisies of the medical marijuana business at the government level. By examining the trickle-down effect of legalization on the casual dealer, Strain serves as a metaphor for how big business can slowly eliminate the smaller, independent market. Even so, while conversations surrounding the challenges of legal distribution can be poignant, they often slow the film’s pacing. Even though there are moments that seem to emulate the absurdity of The Big Short, the film never fully reaches that level of energy. However, what’s most interesting about the film is Anne’s genuine desire to help others.
In her world, the distribution of marijuana isn’t just a financial transaction but rather a public service for those in need. Interestingly, Anne’s love for drug delivery has nothing to do with giving others a ‘buzz’ but about genuine medical aid for her people. What’s more, Anne’s care for her clients extends beyond casual acquaintance, as she knows their health issues and is able to prescribe proper strains that will help their individual needs. In one poignant scene, as one client falls ill after getting his hit elsewhere, Anne runs to the rescue, offering him genuine practical care in his time of need. As opposed to getting involved with the more illegal aspects of the drug trade, Anne’s deepest passion remains helping the marginalized. As Anne, Salgueiro’s solid performance creates a character who operates on the fringe of the law yet somehow also operates with integrity and honour. (Is it weird to respect a film’s drug dealer for the way that she works her trade?) For Anne, what gives life to her heart is helping others, not working the system.
In the end, Canadian Strain is a surprisingly enjoyable and unexpected look behind Canada’s burgeoning marijuana industry. Differentiating itself from other ‘drug-themed’ films with its humility and love of others, Strain is a reminder that passion for others is always the most important aspect of our lives.
For audio of our interview with director Geordie Sabbagh and star Jess Salgueiro, click here.
Canadian Strain is available on demand on AppleTV+ and other digital platforms on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.