The Art of Woo by Erin Oke
(Originally published in Exclaim! November 29, 2001)
The Art of Woo strives to be a modern Canadian take on a classic romantic comedy in the vein of Breakfast at Tiffany's, but doesn't quite pull it off. It features Sook-Yin Lee as Alessa Woo, an art dealer and wannabe socialite who dreams of marrying into a rich and glamorous lifestyle, and Adam Beach as Ben Crowchild, a struggling but talented artist who moves into Alessa's building. The two lie to one another about their pasts and, although there is a mutual attraction that inevitably causes them to fall into bed together, Alessa continues to pursue marriage options that are more fiscally rewarding than Ben. The problem is that, as much as the script tries to romanticise Alessa's gold-digging aspirations as a wistful urge to transcend her given circumstances, her character ultimately comes across as unsympathetic and selfish, especially in her denial of her working class roots and family. Ben, on the other hand, is portrayed as almost too perfect, with a constant ability to take the moral high ground even while he's lying that creates an uneven relationship from the outset.
There are many appealing aspects of this film, such as a beautiful score written by Ron Sexsmith and Kurt Swinghammer, some pockets of gorgeous direction by Helen Lee, and some very engaging performances, but the pieces don't quite all fit together and it ultimately lacks a clear vision. The situations often seem contrived, and there are a few plot leaps that don't make much sense. This gives the film an awkward feeling, which is compounded by attempts to make the characters quirky and the dialogue snappy that feel forced and unnatural. The Art of Woo would probably be a better film if it didn't try quite so hard to be likeable all the time.