If you’ve ever wondered what Alexander Payne’s Sideways would be like if it took place in Niagara’s wine country, The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship apparently exists to answer that question for you. And the answer is that this Canadian Sideways is not nearly as funny, clever or original as it hoped to be.
Colossal Failure tells the story of Cat, a brilliant, but modest musician who is overshadowed by her successful food critic long-term partner, Freddie. To combat her loneliness and ennui, she begins an affair with a man who is more invested in her than she is in him. When Freddie is assigned to a weekend in wine country, Cat tags along hoping to spend a romantic weekend with Freddie and get away from her mundane life in the city. When Freddie’s boss, Richard, and his girlfriend, Amy, tag along at the last minute, Cat is shocked to learn that Freddie’s boss is the same man with whom she has been having an affair. Cue an awkward weekend where this foursome unsuccessfully keep old secrets and successfully birth new ones.
I have to give credit to Colossal Failure because it does attempt to be a sophisticated story about modern relationships, but it faults as Icarus did by going beyond its abilities and the end result is a dull movie which fails to meet its potential. Aside from lacklustre dialogue and a slow-moving plot that feels like it’s nothing more than petty relationship issues of full-grown adults, the characters are under-developed and make it difficult for the viewer to sympathize with them. Upon first introduction, these characters are intriguing and we are eager to find out what happens to them, how they grow and change and develop; but they don’t do any of those things.
The biggest problem Colossal Failure has is the thesis it attempts to perpetrate that suggests that the titular failure of modern relationships is that society no longer holds the monogamous, cis-gendered matrimonial relationship to be the norm. The one character in the movie who speaks of polyamory is seen as a kooky, free-spirit and subtly joked about by the other characters. The significant age difference between Richard and Amy leads him to admit to Freddie that she’s all right for the time being, but that she isn’t someone he sees himself being with long term. The only reason for this seems to be the age difference and the fact that Amy, in stark contrast to Cat, is young, self-confident and unashamed. On top of that, Cat and Freddie have lived common law for years and are considered husband and wife, but they aren’t legally married. For some reason Freddie decides that that needs to change and plans to propose to Cat. This seems unnecessary especially for a relationship that already seems to have been working well for many years. The idea that marriage will solve what Freddie considers to be his “failure” of a relationship is insulting.
Similarly, the characters are all jaded when it comes to the idea of relationships and often talk in sexist ways about both genders. Richard laments to Freddie about his ex-wives and all but calls them gold diggers while Amy purports that all men who have a penis will inevitably be unfaithful. This sort of unfair and ignorant way of thinking to be an example of modern relationships is unfair and to use these unique example as a reason for why modern relationships are less successful now is just plain silly.
Perhaps the title is a tongue-in-cheek joke about the so-called failure, but knowing the title as I sat down to watch the film, I was instinctively drawn to notice the relationships and the people involved in them, and the result was disappointing. Couple that with the fact that Colossal Failure is actually a colossal failure in compelling storytelling and you’ve got a movie that you could take or leave.
The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 18 @ 18:30pm.
Sarah is covering the Italian Contemporary Film Festival which runs in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City from June 11-19. For more festival coverage, click here!