Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and Richard Dreyfuss (Mr. Holland’s Opus) play a young writer and terminally ill doctor on an odd roadtrip in the warm and funny but tearjerking Cas & Dylan, out on DVD now.
There’s a handful of genres that, regardless of the film’s overall quality, I’m prone to falling for. There’s the “we’re putting a band together!”s, films like We Are the Best, The Commitments, School of Rock, and Swing Girls, where a band of misfits find themselves and unite through music, with plenty of conflicts and misadvised fundraising ventures along the way. Then there’s the spy movies, James Bond, Jason Bourne, The Debt, even the more comedic Spy Kids (1-3 only though), high-flying espionage and combat with some pretty cool gadgets thrown in occasionally (looking at you, necklace camera that was somehow possible in the 1965 of The Debt). Then there is the road movie, from the Wim Wenders classics Paris, Texas and Alice in the Cities to the more modern Little Miss Sunshine, physical and metaphorical journeys into the unknown with plenty of self-discovery to be done, pageants to participate in, and humour and friendship to be found down endless stretches of highway. Perhaps because I have never been on one of these roving, aimless quests popularised in these films, I am a road trip tragic. Add in the involvement of Tatiana Maslany, and my crazed Orphan Black fan self can’t help but instantly enjoy Cas & Dylan.
Maslany plays Dylan, an outgoing 22 year old wannabe writer who is observing hospital wards to find inspiration for her work. Working at the hospital, Cas (Richard Dreyfuss) is a 61 year old doctor who has just been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, and is driving from Winnipeg to Vancouver to die at his former home by the sea. After a (as Dylan calls it) “serendipitous” meeting, Dylan convinces Cas to give her a lift “just down the highway” (that plot point reminds me of another road movie, the Australian musical Bran Nue Dae), helping him overcome his “legacy note” writers block. Both stuck at the crossroads in their lives, there’s of course plenty to discover and laugh at along the way.
Making light of death is an incredibly difficult and precarious plot device, and Cas & Dylan navigates this risky territory quite skillfully, with plenty of laughs to be had as it slowly draws the audience in, leading to a surprisingly authentic response to the inevitable finale, staving off awkward jokes and an uneven tone wonderfully. It of course helps that the dynamic between the two leads is excellent, both giving full-bodied performances in a film where they could have just been phoning it in. Maslany (who has an extensive improv background), as take-life-as-it-comes Dylan, is particularly is a joy to watch, with impeccable comic timing.
The verdict: Charm can get you a long way, and Cas & Dylan, a lightweight dramedy in yes, well-worn territory, possesses it in spades. Short and sweet at 90 minutes with two committed leads, it subtly gets the viewer invested, and while it may (of course) end in tears, it doesn’t feel cheap. Plus, western Canada sure is beautiful.
Rating: 3.5 stars