Joshua Jackson in “Aurora Borealis” is “Duncan Shorter,” a fictional doppelgänger to “Pacey Witter,” minus the wit some might say.
The hapless and dim-witted, but compassionate Duncan, finds that in his mid-twenties his life has stagnated with a clunker in a perpetual state of disrepair, menial jobs from which he’s typically fired, and “friends” who are actually unwilling – but claim to be unable to help him out of the slump.
After a visit to his grandparents at their high-rise senior residence, Duncan seizes the opportunity to work as one of the building’s two maintenance men. Of course this will keep him close to his ailing grandfather Ronald (Donald Sutherland), whose Parkinson’s progresses throughout the film. However, working in such close proximity to family also serves to hinder his personal growth toward independence by allowing him to live blissfully having never left his childhood home or made new friends. Effectually, he is keeping everything just the way it is in an effort to prevent the kind of change that his father’s death brought, which still engenders unanswered questions for Duncan.
Enter “Kate” (Juliette Lewis), Ronald’s home nurse whose free spirit stands in stark contrast to Duncan’s, yet they both dive headfirst into a relationship. With this winter romance Duncan hopes that his luck is finally about to change.
With such a clear storyline, it’s no mystery that the dilemma comes with Kate wanting to go and Duncan wanting to stay. Though quite a realistic circumstance, right down to their stand-off in the snow in front of the Wentworth Nursing Home, Duncan’s reasons for not wanting to leave his snowy safe-haven are more numerous than even he himself mentioned. Let us not forget that he is not employed, doesn’t have a reliable vehicle, and has no particular plans to improve his situation. So it’s difficult for an audience who is thinking more reasonably – not sharing the film’s disproportionate optimism – to see how leapfrogging would solve any problems.
Less comprehensible is how such a down and out guy like Duncan can afford a well decorated downtown apartment with expanded windows, offering an uninterrupted view of the bustling street below. The film would be a bit more grounded if it briefly delved into the specific choices Duncan made, if any, which stymied his life – without touching the dreary and uninteresting subject of his father’s death (we’re too invested in Duncan to care about how his father died, its only relevance is its importance to Duncan himself). Without those details, the film implies that failure in life and holding on to one’s local roots go hand-in-hand. The reason why everyone is so quick to dispatch Grandpa Ronald – who approaches the situation quite grudgingly due to his developing Alzheimer’s – is a mystery.
To the film’s credit, I counted at least one bogus “grandpa’s dead” moment that left me on the floor laughing, though I’m not sure writer Brent Boyd or director James Burke IV would’ve predicted that reaction to the scene in question. If the fake-out was intentional, my guess is that it was put in for those who enjoy dramatic films because they guarantee a good cry. Introducing them to the possibility that grandpa might actually kick it gets them warmed up for a momentous grand gesture.
Jackson, Lewis, Linda Fletcher (Ruth), and Sutherland, all accomplished actors, give flawless performances in their roles. Anyone familiar with their previous work would know not to expect any less. As an aficionado of the winter season, I could appreciate that the majesty of snow and ice were emphasized rather than avoided. It’s a brave change of pace from the predictable warm toasty living room. While the story has a few small holes that could easily be patched, it’s remains an overwhelming success. Heartwarming devotion to family and proof that love does change a person’s life never go out of style. Of a long list of romance films, this is surely one to add to your collection.