Feature-length movies adapted from TV shows (and starring the original cast members) tend to have at least one of two fatal flaws: feeling like an overblown, extended episode or feeling segmented, like the movie’s ready to be chopped into pieces and aired as new episodes. The rare adaptations that avoid both traps, like Serenity or Borat, stand on their own legs, without foreknowledge of their precursors being a requisite. Corner Gas: The Movie doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights, but it remains one of the best of its ilk in a long time.
The massively popular Canadian TV series Corner Gas explored the lives of the townspeople of the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan, where there wasn’t much to do but find themselves in farcical predicaments or make sarcastic comments about said predicaments. A blend of Seinfeld and Cheers (with a dash of the homegrown King of Kensington), Corner Gas remained at the top of its game for six seasons, before going off in the air in 2009.
Corner Gas didn’t necessarily need a movie. The show left no unanswered questions. The characters were exactly where they had begun and it felt like all their best possible adventures and mishaps had been explored. Yet Corner Gas: The Movie has a great plot for the characters that neither seems like an extra-long episode nor a cash-grab adaptation.
Dog River’s mayor, Fitzy (Cavan Cunningham), has lost all the town’s money, leaving the community on the brink of bankruptcy. Gas station owner Brent (Brent Butt), diner owner Lacey (Gabrielle Miller), Brent’s snide employee Wanda (Nancy Robertson), unemployed layabout Hank (Fred Ewanuick), police officers Karen and David (Tara Spencer-Nairn and Lorne Cardinal), and Brent’s parents Oscar and Emma (Eric Peterson and Janet Wright) must all band together to save their home – especially after they enter a contest to be named Canada’s Quaintest Town.
As 22-minute episodes, Corner Gas tended to stick with just three subplots in any given show, but Corner Gas: The Movie allows for all eight of the leads to have their own storylines, intertwining with everyone else’s. It’s a complex quilt of subplots that all tie together beautifully at the end. The film never feels like it’s trying very hard to fill 90 minutes, nor like something that could have been covered in a single episode of television.
The entire cast is in perfect pitch, stepping into their five-year-vacant shoes with ease and making you immediately believe that the characters continued existing for the half-decade since the show ended. Brent’s still too busy reading comics to notice those around him; Karen and Davis still kill time by messing with each other; Oscar still thinks everyone around him is a jackass.
If there are any issues with the movie, the two that stick out are minor but understandable. The result of a Kickstarter campaign, Corner Gas: The Movie looks better than the show ever did, but it still feels like it was made for very little. Most of the time, that’s its charm, but a few technical issues in the movie (particularly the editing) are surprisingly sub-standard.
Also, while there was really no way around it without alienating fans, Corner Gas: The Movie wastes no time establishing characters or setting, making the film a little too weak to stand on its own. It assumes you’ve seen the show and so hits the ground running, imagining audiences members will immediately understand why Oscar would trade in his car for a horse-and-buggy or why Hank is terrified to his core during a road trip to Wollerton. (spit)
Those quibbles aside, Corner Gas: The Movie is one of the best comedies in theatres right now and well worth making the effort to go see this weekend — especially since it’s only in theatres for five days. It may not convert haters into fans, but for anyone who’s enjoyed the show, it has to be said that this is not just one of the most enjoyable Canadian movies of the year, but also the best possible movie one could adapt from Corner Gas.
Pretty impressive for a movie without a lot goin’ on.