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The unapologetic Canadianness of WFF coming-of-age flick, Drinkwater

Shot in Penticton, B.C., the upbeat comedy screens at the festival on Dec. 3 and 5 
E-Arts2 Drinkwater 28.48 PHOTO SUBMITTED
Daniel Doheny and Louriza Tronco, pictured, star alongside Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) in the warm-hearted coming-of-age flick Drinkwater, which plays the Whistler Film Festival on Dec. 3 and 5.

Canadian audiences aren’t always accustomed to seeing themselves reflected back on the big screen. Sure, there’s no shortage of Canuck stars that have carved out successful careers in Hollywood, and by now, we’re used to seeing urban centres like Vancouver and Toronto stand in for American cities in the latest big-budget superhero flick. But finding distinctly Canadian stories put to film is a taller task altogether.  

That’s what makes Stephen Campanelli’s latest comedy, Drinkwater, such a charming change of pace. Described by the good folks at the Whistler Film Festival (WFF) as what “may be one of the most unapologetically Canadian films we’ve ever seen,” this coming-of-age story set in Penticton, B.C. contains a Zamboni, a scene centred around a Tim Hortons’ drive-thru, and a subplot about a Wayne Gretzky rookie card. Oh, and did I mention the soundtrack is flush with Canadian pop rock anthems by the likes of Doug and the Slugs and Loverboy? 

“It’s funny because I think when I’m filming I’m just in it as a character and I don’t really realize all the other moving pieces, but when we had our premiere in Calgary that was one of the first things one of the audience members brought up, the very Canadian hockey scene and Tim Hortons scene, and they loved it,” recalls Louriza Tronco, who plays Wallace in the film. “I was like, ‘Oh, right, I guess we don’t see that often as audience members on the screen.’ We’re not really exposed to that. The world hasn’t really been exposed to what Canadian living is.” 

Drinkwater follows the titular Mike Drinkwater, played by Daniel Doheny, who has trouble fitting in and finds himself bullied by the school jock. Veteran TV actor Eric McCormack, star of the smash NBC sitcom Will & Grace, plays Daniel’s eccentric father, Hank, who is always looking to his next scheme to defraud the government and make an extra buck. Tronco’s Wallace is an American transplant from New York who is forced to move to small-town B.C. with her grandparents after the death of her mom, and who eventually meets and bonds with Mike. 

Inspired by the teen flicks of the ‘80s and ‘90s like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, Drinkwater differs from those classic coming-of-age stories in a few notable ways.  

“A lot of the times the story deviates from your standard coming-of-age Hollywood structure, and there are lots of scenes in there that are more character-based and pushing it along,” says Doheny. 

For Tronco, a Filipina-Canadian actor known for the Netflix horror series, The Order, getting to play a romantic lead was another welcome deviation from the standard teen flick formula. 

“For one, I haven’t really seen a lot of people of colour in my position in terms of the friend turning into the love interest. I think that’s what differs from my perspective as a young Filipina woman,” she says. “That’s awesome that we’re breaking those barriers and saying, ‘No, I can be a love interest to someone in a movie.’” 

While it’s Tronco and Doheny who serve as the beating heart of the film, it’s McCormack’s easy screen presence and comedic chops that make Drinkwater as funny as it is. Getting to work with the veteran of TV, film and stage was a welcome opportunity for both young actors. 

“He’s such a professional. He’s so funny,” Tronco says. 

The cast was given ample freedom to improvise—Doheny estimates about half of his lines that made it into the final cut were off the cuff—and Tronco remembers McCormack ad-libbing in one of their first scenes together. 

“Daniel and I are having this deep conversation about how I had just lost my mom, and Eric comes out [in character] and just says, ‘Hi, Wendy!’ He doesn’t even get my character’s name right and then goes back inside the house. I think it was the first day I worked with him, so I thought, ‘Great, this is going be fun and I’m just not going to show my face on camera so I don’t break character.’ He’s a comedic genius.” 

Shot entirely during the pandemic, Drinkwater is the kind of fun, upbeat comedy that can serve as a balm to the past year and a half of uncertainty and upheaval, Tronco says. 

“This was also the first film I filmed during the pandemic and I so needed it, too. It is a warm comedy at the end of the day,” she says. “Hey, I love a good thriller, I love a good Squid Game or what have you, but just to have this sort of film that the whole family can watch together and enjoy for all ages, I think it’s going to be really good. I always think laughter is the best kind of medicine.” 

Drinkwater screens at the 21st annual WFF at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 3 at the Maury Young Arts Centre, and at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 5 at Village 8 Cinemas. Tickets are available at whistlerfilmfestival.com