As one of the most highly anticipated TV to film adaptations in Canadian cinema history, at least since the Trailer Park Boys movies, fans greeted the film with warm expectations and a readiness for a good time. As long time fan of the series, I know that I could not possibly review this in my promised objective and unbiased manner. This instead is a piece on the experience of seeing the small town of Dog River, Saskatchewan hit the big screen.
Corner Gas is one of the most successful comedies in Canadian television history. During its initial run from 2003-2009, it garnered an impressive worldwide fan base and raked in over 1 million viewers per episode on average (which for Canadian television is pretty outstanding). The show ran for 6 seasons, which is about as long as any other Canadian series has ever lasted (unless you count the many reincarnations of the Degrassi franchise). It even earned an International Emmy nomination during its first season! When this sitcom about a fictional small town where there’s not a lot going on came to an end, fans were devastated, but their spirit lived on through 6 years of reruns and rumours and demands for a movie starring the characters we’ve grown to know and love.
Earlier this year, the show’s creator, Brent Butt, announced plans to make a Corner Gas movie and the fans were thrilled. How thrilled exactly? A Kickstarter campaign to fund the film started up with the goal of raising $100,000 in one month to find the project. Skeptics of this goal were shut up when the money was raised in a mere 26 hours, the campaign going on to earn almost triple this amount. The fans wanted just one more chance to experience Brent Butt’s simple, dry, sarcastic humour and find out what has become of their favourite characters in the years since we left Dog River in the series finale, just as it always was.
Seeing Corner Gas: The Movie in theatres was quite an experience in itself. Instead of your typical pre-show, we got an address from Brent Butt thanking all of the fans and introducing the movie in the ways only he can. There was some fun trivia about the show and clips of viewers who sent in videos of themselves singing along to the show’s theme song, Not a Lot Goin’ On by Craig Northey and Jesse Valenzuela. There was even a playing of the national anthem, for which everyone in the theatre stood for. For a film made as a thank you to the supportive fans of the series, it was truly a memorable experience.
The movie itself was everything the fans could have hoped for. It took about 10 minutes to re-establish itself before it went straight back into the humour that made the show a success in the first place. As far as the quality of the production, acting and story go, it was no better or worse than the show was in its prime. The laughs lasted from beginning to end as the gang, shown six years after the series ended, acting as if no time had gone by. The only noticeable difference was how much the actors have aged. They have since greyed and all looked much older than they once were. The most evident of this was Janet Wright, who plays Emma Leroy, who barely stood or walked throughout the movie.
The plot was quite a risky move, since the show ended very smoothly and altering its conclusion ran the risk of ruining it. However, Brent took liberties in storylines that would change some character dynamics and made them make perfect sense. Actress Tara Spencer-Nairn, who plays Officer Karen, was pregnant during the filming of the movie. Brent wrote this into the movie, but did not inhibit Karen’s ability to do her job. She states at the beginning of the film that she is pregnant, and that’s it. No excessive hormones, no indulging in cravings, no vomiting, no morning sickness, no struggle with maternity clothing, no dramatic birthing scene at the conclusion of the film. Karen just does her job and is not inhibited by her pregnancy like how characters in other films and shows are by theirs.
Another touchy storyline featured in the movie was that of Brent and Lacey possibly dating. Throughout the show, there were subtle nuances and moments between the two, but they never actually dated. Lacey was the girl next door who moves to town at the beginning of the show and her cafe, the Ruby, is next door to Corner Gas. Their dynamic was central to the show and would be irrevocably altered if they ever dated. In the movie, Emma is determined for her to date and marry her son Brent and eventually give her grandchildren. This relationship was a subplot of the movie and a potential gamechanger in the world of Dog River. I won’t say how this ended, but in Brent Butt’s brilliant comedic and writing prowess, he ends this plot perfectly with just the conclusion it needed.
Sure, there were a few plotholes and inconsistencies both within the film and between it and the series. But this is a feature length film based on a sitcom that still sported more consistency and better verbal and physical comedy and effects than many higher budget Hollywood comedies. It was, however, a little suspicious that we never heard about Davis’s wife, even though we find out in the show’s finale that he eventually gets married. It could, however, be argued that he meets her after the events of the movie (and this desperate justification is why I cannot objectively review this film).
Another noteworthy difference was the upgrade from small to big screen. When the show was on the air, background music was rarely used, typically at the end of an episode to move things along or as a transition between scenes, if at all. Here, a score was liberally added to many scenes and added an unfamiliar seriousness to the situations at hand. This movie is not the first time that the residents of Dog River have dealt with a serious situation, but they are usually approached much more light-heartedly. Being in movie form, the film also lacked the familiar pacing that a sitcom would normally sport, opting for quicker dialogue delivery. Doing this ran the risk of viewers missing content from laughter, but luckily this did not affect the movie too much.
Over the past decade, Corner Gas has truly made its mark on Canadian history: it brought western small towns to screens all over the world; it showed us that you don’t have to be racist or vulgar to bring about a laugh; it taught us that no matter how silly someone seems, there will always be someone less intelligent out there; but most importantly, it made it socially acceptable to call someone a jackass. It was a perfect ending when we never thought there could be another one and is the experience that we all waited for and won’t be disappointed by. All fans of the series should check it out and those looking for a good laugh should see it as well. I’ll be waiting for a box set of all six seasons and the movie (you read that right!) for my collection.