Honestly now, have you, of late, found yourself enthralled by pleasing stimuli? Please, no nauseating responses like "Aromatherapy shifts my reality" or "After I get Rolfed, my heart is more open to love." Instead, think of the good, serendipitous stuff, the random intoxicants that bombard your subcutaneous organs. For example, has a wayward ladybug ever skittered across your unsuspecting nipple? Have the salty, road-worn boots of an itinerant juggler aroused your olfactory membranes? Has an imaginative music video tickled your retinas in the last decade? At the very least, do you ever find yourself sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come?
If you answered "no" to these questions, you're probably somewhat normal, but you may not be meeting your RDA of neurological gratification. Just to warn you, your ganglia are unlikely to pulse with lascivious synapses at The Five Senses, either. Despite its promising title, this new film from Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa (Eclipse) isn't much of a candidate for the midnight circuit, as it's less about sensual excitement than about people simply coping with boring routines. True, their senses (and instincts) ultimately lift them out of their ruts, but the catalysts are mostly contrived. Hearing is represented by classical music. Taste by cake. Touch by massage. Passion by Italians. And so on. It's all good, as they say, but don't expect to be wowed by a vast spectrum of delicacies because the buffet here is composed of entirely obvious ingredients.
Of course, that also seems to be the point Podeswa seeks to make: That we humans are capable of experiencing much more of our immediate environments, relishing even the simple stuff and being the more whole for our efforts. Set over three tense days in Toronto, the movie follows the interweaving paths of several distraught characters, each of whom has a lesson to learn from -- naturally -- their senses. Rona (Mary-Louise Parker) is a baker, but her beautifully crafted cakes are purely cosmetic creations, not very much fun to eat, representing (bingo!) her life. Against the advice of her effeminate, lovelorn friend Robert (Daniel MacIvor), she invites a fling from Italy to come live with her. The (yawn) delightfully exotic Roberto (Marco Leonardi) is everything Rona's confections are not, and he quickly sets about teaching her the meaning of taste.
Inhabiting the same building as Rona are Richard (Philippe Volter), an eye doctor who has just discovered that he is going deaf, and Ruth (Gabrielle Rose), a massage therapist who couldn't be more out of touch with her teenage daughter, Rachel (Nadia Litz). While Richard attempts to catalog memories of sounds in his mind, Rachel takes the 2-year-old daughter of her mother's client Anna (Molly Parker) on a trip to the park. Setting the wheels of conflict and universal interconnectedness in motion, the adolescent takes her eyes off her charge to scrutinize a couple making love in the foliage. The child disappears, the mothers lose their balance, and a complex drama of self-discovery unfolds.
Although the stimuli of The Five Senses may be a bit rote, and the pacing offers yards of slack, the performances are uniformly energetic, and Podeswa has a gift for orchestrating moving moments in deceptively simple circumstances. For example, when Richard gets down on himself about his hearing loss and hires former flame Gail (Pascale Bussières) to raise his spirits, she decides to accompany him on his quest for auditory pleasure, and prostitution soon turns to poetry. Less convincing is the silly transformation of Rachel's randy friend Rupert (Brendan Fletcher), but their experiences along the way feel like genuine teenage oats. The most memorable sequences probably come from Robert, as the house-cleaner desperately reconnects with his exes, hoping to detect on one of them the undeniable stench of love.
This screenplay wouldn't get past the greenest of Hollywood readers (its structure is all over the place, and it wraps up so abruptly the credits will startle you), but the dialogue and individual scenes are thoughtful and well crafted. When Ruth attempts to cover for her daughter's calamitous carelessness, Anna's reply rings out with painful clarity: "You don't want to help me ... you want me to forgive you." On the lighter end, when Robert harangues Rona, then inquires about their own failed relationship, she swiftly reminds him: "We broke up because you're always on my tits!" The movie doesn't want for candor.
Veterans of emotionally volatile material, Rose (The Sweet Hereafter) and Volter (The Double Life of Veronique) do much to maintain a sense of gravity among these scattershot stories. It also helps that Podeswa has developed the lost child to represent a symbol of the other characters' quests for true feeling. The Five Senses probably won't satisfy your own five senses, but it may at least remind you to go outside, taste a friend, sniff the ice-cream truck and listen to a flower.
Opens Aug. 11 at the Chase Park Plaza.