Much like the kids in this movie who come of age, so too does Robert Kirbyson‘s skill as a writer-director in his debut film Snowmen.
Snowmen is loosely based on Kirbyson’s childhood in Canada where he faced among other things, a parent dealing with leukaemia. However, thanks to a little creative licensing, we have the story of Billy (Bobby Coleman), a small town tween loving wintertime and playing in the snow with his pal Lucas (Christian Martyn).
Whether it’s building snowman or having a snowball fight, life couldn’t get any better, especially for a kid recovering from cancer. Two new wrinkles are soon introduced in their winter wonderland. The first is the arrival of a new kid, a Jamaican named Howard (Bobb’e J. Thompson). The second is when all three kids barely escape death from a tractor while climbing through a snow tunnel only to find a boot…attached to a dead body.
The corpse and the near-death experience gets Billy focusing on his own mortality and brings about the epiphany that he must do something that people
will forever remember him by: a feat in the Guinness Book of Records. Motivated by his father, Reggie (Ray Liotta), he decides to use questionable marketing
techniques or “spin” to use his cancer to motivate people to help him achieve his goal of building thousands of snowmen to break the record. Although he manages to entice the entire student body, teachers and even a local politician to join the cause, one obstacle remains: a certain bully by the name of Jason (Josh Flitter).
At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss this as another film festival favorite, but Snowmen is a little too dark for the Nickolodeon or Disney set. Kirbyson takes
as much from A Christmas Story as American Beauty with a somewhat macabre narration by Billy that he’ll be dead soon. You definitely won’t find that kind of frankness on iCarly. Intentionally or not, Billy comes across as a bit of jerk who almost flaunts his disease, no matter who it may make uncomfortable.
It’s refreshing to see kids or people with diseases not granted with an automatic halo, which is often a given in films like this. Billy is a borderline
narcissist to the point of ignoring the contribution of his friends and adults around him.
Ray Liotta provides much needed comic relief as the used car dealer whose commercials would almost put the legendary Cal Worthington to shame. Part showman and part caring dad, he’s definitely at home playing a bit of a huckster who never met a camera he didn’t like. After playing the heavy for most of his career, it’s nice to see him mix it up on a lighter side.
Bobb’e J. Thompson‘s Jamaican accent is nothing short of annoying from the time he gets on screen, but he puts in a nice showing here. Not only is he playing the outsider in an all-white community, but is also the sidekick who seems to be the only one brave enough to stand up to Jason. He becomes more likeable as the film progresses and his accent starts to level off.
As you wonder who best embodied Kirbyson in the film, it’s hard not to guess that it’s Lucas. He goes from being just the token cute kid to the one that best embodies the path of independence in the film as he takes on his nemesis, Jason. Christopher Lloyd as a funeral caretaker pops in for a brief, but needed cameo to remind the boys what really matters.
The physical elements are both friend and foe in the film. Park City provides a perfect location to get lost in a snow drift, build a couple thousand snowmen or even learn to ice skate all miles away from Hollywood sound stages. The winter-y white location creates an environment more akin to a different time than just a different location.
Snowmen starts with a character nearly as frigid as the title, but eventually this film will warm even the coldest of hearts.
Much like the kids in this movie who come of age, so too does Robert Kirbyson's skill as a writer-director in his debut film Snowmen.