From director Adam Nerenberg (Stupidity, Escape to Canada, Trailervision) and co-director/host/self-described Mr. Toronto Rob Spence comes a lighthearted documentary on why Canadians (including Torontonians themselves) hate the people and sometimes very existence of Canada’s largest city.
As Mr. Toronto, Spence filmed his oddball tour of the country, propping up a “Toronto Appreciation Day” Banner in risky public venues, and asking locals about their feelings towards the big city that’s became Canada’s financial center, and sports the country’s most diverse urban population.
Why is the city hated? When and where did the roots of this contempt begin? What specific aspects of the city and its people are pet peeves, and are they grounded in any fact?
There are three streams that intersect within the doc: the tour that’s part publicity stunt and a deliberate provocation; the Q&A segments among locals, journalists, historians, and comedians; and myth busting (or at least an attempt to break down the myths propagated by T.O. haters, and T.O. politicians themselves).
Viewed as an emotionally needy tightwad trying desperately to be the New York City of the north, the inhabitants are often described as soulless, money-fixated dullwads with unfriendly mugs perpetually whining about fatigue and lack of time, working for work’s sake, and shoving their views – such as an overwhelming obsession with the Toronto Maple Leafs – down the throats of provinces whose own cultural identities just don’t seem to matter.
The ridicule went into overdrive when ex-mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to shovel away the immense snowfall that ground the city to a halt in 1999; the town looked like a crying baby, and has never been able to strike the event from the national consciousness.
Overall, the filmmakers manage to maintain a steady pace, interweaving the ridiculous tour vignettes with more concrete elements, and there are moments of hilarity (mostly from anti-T.O. insults that are absolute gems), but a major flaw is a reliance on too many statements by comedians at a convention.
The comedian vignettes may be an attempt to thwart the inbred boredom and disinterest many Canadians have towards of their own history, so to avoid the yawns inherent of high school history classes, small factual nuggets (including comments by “Why Everybody Hates Toronto” author Michael B. Davie) are spread out, but it kind of weakens the filmmakers’ job in trying to present a more sophisticated examination of the country’s T.O. loathing.
The second flaw, much like Nerenberg’s Stupidity, is the finale, because there really is no solution to the problem nor any end to the loathing.
Torontonians’ own identity issues as well as propagated myths (in spite of ongoing municipal publicity materials, T.O. was never deemed ‘the most culturally diverse city in the world) run far deeper than what the doc uncovers, so summing up the city’s problems as being part of a local inferiority complex is rather blah; it’s not untrue statement, but it’s a poor closing argument to the more serious issue of why the country’s biggest city keeps stumbling in its efforts to force an evolutionary process that’ll morph itself from an ex-tightwad Protestant stronghold into ‘a world class city.’
Nerenberg and Spence’s film does open the door for more formal examinations of the city and specific issues, but one wonders if the rest of the country would actually care.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan