Debuting at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, “The High Cost of Living” details the unimaginable torment of its two main characters, the victim of a hit-and-run and the man who ran her down.
Set in Montreal the movie casts former “Scrubs” funnyman Zach Braff as drug dealer Henry Welles. Driving drunk, he hits a Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) a pregnant woman who lives in his neighborhood. He flees the scene, but overcome by guilt he seeks out Natalie. The relief he feels when he discovers she survived is short lived when he learns her child was killed in the accident and she will now give birth to a stillborn daughter. Without confessing his crime Henry befriends Nathalie, hoping to find some redemption, but the situation only becomes more complicated.
“The High Cost of Living” is a performance driven film. Braff and Blais carry the weightiness of the story, handing in well modulated performances that stop the story from veering into melodrama. Their relationship isn’t always believable but their performances are.
Braff brings as much charm as possible to Henry, a low life drug dealer, and almost makes us sympathize for him. But not quite. If anyone sees this movie it could be a career changer for him, breaking him out of the sitcom mold.
Blais brings a raw edge to Nathalie, playing her as a woman whose life has literally come crashing down all around her. Roles like this ride a fine line. Go too far and you swerve into Victorian stage melodrama, hold back and discover that silent suffering isn’t effective on film. Blais finds the right balance and is devastating as a haunted woman with a heavy heart.
Despite the presence of Braff “The High Cost of Living” isn’t a barrel of laughs. It’s a heavy, but not heavy-handed drama that isn’t exactly enjoyable—that would be the wrong word—but it is effective.