If John Hughes had been Canadian, maybe we would have gotten Drinkwater sooner than we did.
Set in small-town British Columbia, Drinkwater tells the story of Mike Drinkwater (Daniel Doheny), an awkward teen who struggles to fit in. Living at home with his government-defrauding father (Eric McCormack), Mike has few friends and gets bullied by the school jock. But when a girl named Wallace (Louriza Tronco) moves in next door, Mike decides to take her under his wing and show her around. As the two begin a strong friendship, they begin to inspire one another to face their fears together.
Directed by Stephen Campanelli, Drinkwater is a sharply written, and well-performed coming-of-age story that may rely on formula but still manages to win your heart. Films about loveable losers are far from new and, at first, Drinkwater feels a little too much of a carbon copy of films that have come before. However, wonderful performances by its cast and a delightful script make this film a surprisingly memorable and worthwhile experience.
As Mike, young Doheny practically bounces off the screen with energy and awkward charm. Because the loveable loser trope is one that we’ve seen so many times before, the character can be hit or miss. With Doheny, he’s undoubtedly a hit. Espousing the wisdom of Bruce Lee and showcasing the most awkward conversations with the opposite sex you’ve seen in some time, Doheny shines in the role and gives life to the film. However, special notice has to be given to McCormack, who plays Hank with such unbelievable silliness that the actor is almost unrecognizable. Best known for his role in Will and Grace, McCormack has always shown comedic chops but he showcases an almost Coen-esque energy and enthusiasm here. Quite frankly, he’s a joy to watch.
Although the film is set in modern day, Drinkwater shows very few signs of it. Outside of a couple of scenes that include wireless headphones and speakers, this film is meant to have a timeless quality.
Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate.
This film is meant to look and feel like the 1980s in as many ways as possible. Featuring a soundtrack littered with 80s Pop hits and simple sets, Drinkwater unashamedly emulates the John Hughes films that defined a decade. Featuring young characters on the cusp of adulthood who are simply trying to find their way in a world where few adults understand them, Drinkwater, fully intends to honour a style of storytelling that continues to resonate to this day.
However, what also sits Drinkwater apart is its unapologetically Canadian voice. Featuring conversations about Tim Hortons (It’s not like Dunkin’!), American villains and the greatest prize of all: a Wayne Gretzky rookie card, drink water celebrates the Canadian identity with a gleefulness that we often don’t see in other homegrown cinema. This isn’t merely a film set in Canada or one that acknowledges its roots. Instead, this is an outright Canadian party that Campanelli wants to invite us to. (In fact, the climactic finish even features an anthemic use of 80’s-era Corey Hart.)
Drinkwater is a classic coming-of-age story, featuring one young man‘s journey to try and get the girl of his dreams, while grappling with the realities of pending adulthood. However, beyond the formulaic framework, this is a story about grief and struggling through life together. Similar to the Hughes films, Drinkwater also opens the door for conversations about some very real issues. Conversations around sexuality, abandonment, and even suicide linger throughout the film, leaving emotional scars on its characters.
But, this is what also keeps the film grounded and gives it heart. Embedded within the suffering that each character endures is the belief that the only way to survive to run life’s race together. In a world where everyone is fighting for themselves, the notion that we all need to support one another echoes throughout not only Mike’s journey, but that of the other characters as well. Drinkwater is a film that seeks to move past living a life delusion and encourages the viewer to leans into reality.
And that reality means we need one another to survive.
While Drinkwater may not be a film that shows up on many screens across North America, it is definitely one to look out for. Few Canadian films in recent years are both this much fun and this proud of their heritage. Without a doubt, I will proudly take another sip of this Drinkwater, while I clutch my double-double from Timmies in one hand and a Canadian flag in the other.
Drinkwater is available in Victoria on October 21st and Vancouver and Toronto on October 28th, 2022.