Vaguely arty, hit-and-miss potboilers best describe the recent movies of Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (‘Chloe’, ‘The Captive’). His latest, ‘Guest of Honour’, is eccentric, if you’re feeling generous, and muddled and way-off-target if you’re not. It’s likely the first movie, though, to parallel the forensic work of a Mancunian food inspector, Jim (David Thewlis), in urban Canada with the various crises and tragedies in his personal life, especially the convoluted events which led to his grown-up daughter, Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), once a school music teacher, being jailed for a sex crime she didn’t commit.
Most of the film exists in various levels of soft focus, sometimes dreamy flashbacks as Veronica, now free from jail, recalls the events of her life to a priest (Luke Wilson), who’s preparing to officiate at her father’s funeral. Past events are gradually pieced together – although to what end is never really obvious.
Add to the above a much-loved white pet bunny, some fried rabbit ears, multiple health-and-safety trips to diverse restaurants and an over-generous serving of musical score, and you’ve got a story you’d be forgiven for sniggering at. It’s not just the overwrought narrative that drags down the film – indeed if Pedro Almodóvar served up the same yarn, the chances are we’d be hooked. But Egoyan doesn’t whip up the energy or the depth of character and emotion to force this through. Thewlis is fairly compelling as the grieving jobsworth inspector with the suspiciously unflappable exterior, but Oliveira is unconvincing as the daughter, and many of the other smaller parts – especially a vicious school bus driver intrinsic to the daughter’s story – fail to land. There’s only so much food-regulation sleuthing you can tolerate, too. It’s finally a mystery with too little to reveal. Some light is shed, some doors creak open, but this slumps to a close with little of consequence having been explored.
Available to stream in the US from Fri Jul 10.
Available to stream in the UK now on Curzon Home Cinema.