An American movie with an unmistakable Canadian vibe


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Sure, the upcoming action-comedy-fantasy Free Guy may be an American studio movie, shot in Boston.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/08/2021 (375 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sure, the upcoming action-comedy-fantasy Free Guy may be an American studio movie, shot in Boston.

But there is an unmistakable Canadian vibe to it, beyond the fact that its star, Ryan Reynolds, and its director Shawn Levy are Canadian boys.

In the film, Reynolds plays Guy, an unflappably friendly dude who works in a bank in a literally booming metropolis. Guy is blissfully unaware that he is, in fact, an “NPC,” a non-playable character in an ultra-violent, open-world video game named Free City.

Joe Keery, director Shawn Levy and Utkarsh Ambudkar. (Twentieth Century Fox)

But when Guy meets a beautiful player proxy called Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer), our hero suddenly aspires to break out of his passive rut when she teaches him the truth about the violent digital universe in which he dwells.

Levy, in a Zoom interview alongside the film’s production designer Ethan Tobman, cops to Guy’s Canadian niceness as a key to the film’s comic dynamics.

“In my first meeting with Ryan, we talked about wanting to (create) a metaphor for innocence and how does optimism and civility survive in an often cynical world?” Levy says.

“I literally said to him, ‘Deadpool is defined by a certain kind of cynical, bruised-by-life pain. Guy is your Canadian self.’

“‘I need you to play your most Canadian, Ryan,’” Levy recalls telling the Vancouver-born Reynolds. “And that was literally the first piece of direction I gave him before we even agreed to sign up and do this movie.”

“While I didn’t frame it as Canadian-within-the-U.S. context, that character is absolutely intended to be Ryan‘s kindest, most idealistic, civil Canadian self.”

As a director and producer, the Montreal-born Levy, 53, has often worked material that is comic (Date Night, Cheaper by the Dozen), the fantastic (Stranger Things, Real Steel) and both at the same time (the Night at the Museum trilogy). Free Guy falls firmly into the latter category.

As a moviemaker, he was intrigued by the possibilities of picking out a background character and making him the star of the story.

“The whole premise from the very beginning was: What is the inner life of all those background people?” Levy says. “Even though they exist as victims or as backdrops, each one is an individual entity and consciousness.

“So why don’t we sideline the protagonist of the video game, the players, and let’s explore the inner life of those NPC’s.”

The concept proved to be a delight for production designer Tobman — another native Montrealer — who relished building an intimate world around what should be a throwaway character.

“One of the things Shawn and I enjoyed exploring the most was: How do you design the world for and develop a character who is purposefully underdeveloped?” Tobman says.

“He’s half-developed on purpose. Things like his apartment, his clothes, the details of his life, they stop midsentence.

“What does that look like, to economize creativity?” he says. “You almost have a limit of what you’re allowed in terms of bandwidth to devote to this character.

“And we all love that, because we all feel like we’re cogs in the machine trapped in a hamster wheel,” Tobman says. “We can all relate to that.”

Yet Guy has a sunny disposition — and a corresponding sunny personal environment — that creates a bright contrast to the dark criminal activity afflicting Free City.

“Shawn and I were inspired I think to explore that optimism in a really cynical world,” Tobman says. “It was contagious for people like production designers and cinematographers to latch onto that and explore it and develop it.”

Another delight that should make the movie entertaining for repeat viewings, is its comic details.

“We tried very, very hard to build layers of humour in the movie so that, if you see it three times by the second or third time you could you could stop watching people talking and you could look at the production design and the layers behind it,” Levy says. “Because there are jokes and Easter eggs in every layer of the frame. That was very fun.

“It’s not something you do on every movie,” Levy says. “ But on a movie like this, which has such an inherently playful premise, we wanted to have a playful approach to production design.”


Free Guy opens in theatres Friday, Aug. 13.

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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