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Film Review: ‘The Exchange’ Swaps Out Old Cliches for a Comedy with Heart

The Exchange is a pseudo-biographical film, following Tim Long, a lonesome student obsessed with the French New Wave of film in 1986. To get away from the sex-driven population of his school that has no care for the French class, Tim signs up to host an exchange student from France, hoping to find a friend as cerebral as himself. However, the exchange student, Stephane, that was going to be his salvation quickly becomes his worst nightmare, becoming a celebrity within the town of Hobert overnight and having no care for the “tourist Paris” that Tim idolizes. Throughout the film, characters constantly are challenged to act in humility instead of their ego, as they put aside their preconceptions of each other. It’s this story that works so well, being a staple of the teenage-comedy genre, while being distinctly Canadian as well.  

That atmosphere is the handiwork of screenwriter Tim Long, who grew up in Brandon Ontario, Canada. The Exchange foregoes the stereotypical cliches used by films like Super Troopers 2, instead centering its gags around Canadian history. These gags include making fun of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the reliance on the agriculture industry, and the tokenism sadly found throughout many, predominately white, small towns. However, these cultural gags aren’t the only source of humor found in the movie. There are plenty of jokes relevant to the teenage years, regarding the awkward nature of high school and the heightened sexual drives of young adults. These gags work perfectly for this film, making the overall experience enjoyable throughout.

Adding to all this is the performances of Ed Oxenbould and Avan Jogia, as Tim and Stephane respectably. Both actors bring their characters to life perfectly, with Oxenbould capturing the introverted and geeky nature of Tim, and with Jogia expanding on the larger-than-life style of Stephane. These two have a natural chemistry with each other that makes each scene a joy to watch. And the supporting cast elevates the script as well, with seasoned comedic actors Justin Hartley, Paul Braunstein, Jennifer Irwin, and Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll stealing entire scenes. For as over the top as these performances are, director Dan Mazer grounds this film through the stripped-down style. However, this style doesn’t harm the film, instead elevating the performances on screen. And occasionally, Mazer will use footage shot from a home camcorder to point out the time-period of this piece in humorous ways. The cumulation of these choices creates an authentic teenage comedy, that captures the spirit of being a teenager.

It’s this sense of authenticity that oozes from The Exchange in each scene. It isn’t afraid to dive into the racial tensions often found in Canadian history, choosing to be a bold criticism of the two-faced nature of its citizens. And yet there is also a love for Canada found in the film, seen in the small decisions, like choosing not to subtitle most of the spoken French language in the film, as it is the second national language. With a beating heart for its characters and its country, The Exchange shows itself to be worth watching this weekend.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by benjaminwiebe

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