Quite often with indie films it’s easy to understand what the film is trying to do and applaud it for the effort, but the movie itself doesn’t actually achieve what it sets out to do. That’s the problem with What We Have, which works better in theory than practice.
Maurice is a Frenchman who has uprooted himself to a new life in a remote town in Northern Canada. He’s gone there to escape a past that haunts him, but despite his new surroundings, he finds it difficult to connect with the people he meets. He gets two jobs – one as an actor in French-language plays and the other tutoring a teenage boy who needs help with his foreign-languages.
The acting job brings him into contact with Michael – or technically back into contact, as Maurice has already slept with him and then threw him out of his apartment – who wants to begin a relationship with Maurice. The tutoring job meanwhile sees him working with the young Allan, something that gets increasingly complicated when Allan develops feelings for Maurice, and the older man begins to recognise his own struggles in his student. Inevitably questions begin to be asked about their relationship and whether it’s appropriate.
All that sounds pretty interesting, but the movie has some fundamental problems that tend to undermine it. The biggest is Maurice, who is so glum, morose and closed that it’s virtually impossible to understand why everyone around him seems to desperate to be his friend and to connect to him. Even the flashbacks to his youth that are supposed to illuminate his character seem rather arbitrary and don’t fully connect with what’s happening in the present.
I can’t help but think that one of the main issues is that writer/director/star Maxime Desmons was too close to the material and wasn’t able to step back and really see what he was doing. As a result Maurice is too flat and doesn’t feel like he’s going on a journey, while everyone reacts to him as if they’ve just met someone completely different to the one we’re seeing on screen. There’s also the sense that the character would make more sense if he were about 10-years younger and played by someone else.
Despite these problems, there are worthwhile things about the movie, as the themes it’s attempting to explore are interesting, and it has intriguing ideas about them, even if they don’t always come across that well. Both Michael and Allan are interesting people and there is massive amounts of potential in their stories, but when they come up against the flatness that is Maurice, that journey only comes to life in fits and starts. Even Maurice himself has a lot of potential, as he is trying to connect to the world while simultaneously trying to be lost within it, but his interactions with other people don’t feel real.
Overall Verdict: What We Have is a movie with lots of potential but it never quite works out how to merge dealing with a character who is closed and broken, with people who inexplicably think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Individually the two sides could have worked but together they clash.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac