Niagara Motel Review

Any doubts as to what kind of film Niagara Motel wishes to be are swiftly dissipated during the opening credits. Cut to a Hawaiian guitar theme and accompanied by an equally excitable voice-over introduction to the film’s setting, Niagara Falls, it has wannabe quirky written all over it. In fact it comes as something of a surprise to discover that this is an Anglo-Canadian production given how much it apes key examples of US indie filmmaking. The motel setting recalls, at times, Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train and the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink, whilst the multi-character ensemble clearly has at least one eye on Wes Anderson’s most recent efforts.

Drawing on George F. Walker’s Suburban Motel plays, the film throws in various pieces of business, but little that’s of interest. Populating the drama we have an assemblage of disparate characters – Siberian immigrants, a conman, recovering drug addicts, a prostitute, a grieving husband whose wife died in comic circumstances – but scant effort to bring them all together. The motel setting allows each to essentially their own narrative, connected only by the fact that they’re sharing the same location, time period and “quirky” sensibility.

The major problem with this dislocation is that in storytelling terms Niagara Motel has little place to go. The first half serves as a barrage of exposition in which backstories need to be divulged and relationships explained, whilst the second, in its efforts to reach some kind of conclusion, simply settles for a procession of arguments and confrontations which, inevitably, all become rather wearying. The effect is akin to watching a series of short films which have been hastily edited together. Moreover, each of these shorts feels like the efforts of a first timer: the results continually strive for that offbeat edge, yet in doing so feel ultimately undeveloped and without any kind of distinctive voice.

To be fair Gary Yates, who is actually helming his second feature, does as best he can with the material. The aforementioned credit sequence seems to have satisfied most of his oddball impulses and so the rest of the film is played relatively straight from his point of view. As a result Niagara Motel relies more heavily on its script and actors, and herein lies its downfall. As well as this desire to be classed as zany and presumably earn itself some kind of cult status, the screenplay (which Walker co-wrote) renders each of the characters as mere ciphers. The result is a film which plays like Neil Simon’s California Suite and Plaza Suite movies only without any of the big names. Thus there are no personas to play on (as was the case with the likes of Maggie Smith, say, or Richard Pryor) and nothing with which to hook us in. Essentially we’re left with a film which has far too much of too little.

The Disc

A real disappointment from Soda, Niagara Motel’s DVD handling is way below average. The film comes in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and taken from a fine print, but rather strangely comes without anamorphic enhancement (which is, as far as I’m aware, a first for the company). Similarly the soundtrack comes across well but eschews the original DD5.1 mix in favour of a downgraded Dolby Surround option. Ultimately, it’s still watchable, but it gives the impression that Soda don’t particularly care for the film and are giving it as belated a release as possible. Indeed, the extras amount solely to the usual theatrical trailer and standard EPK derived nonsense which could easily have served as a single featurette rather than the three tiny ones we find here.

3 out of 10
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6 out of 10
3 out of 10


out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:16:17

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