Somewhere between Winnipeg and Canada’s Pacific coast, Cas Pepper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Dylan Morgan (Tatiana Maslany), the unlikely pair at the center of Cas & Dylan, rest a spell in a roadside dive. The comic possibilities of throwing together the paunchy, cheerless doctor, planning to end his life before the ravages of inoperable brain cancer set in, and the relentlessly talkative punk, hoping to publish her genre-bending novel, have, by this point in the film, long since shriveled up, so they’re left to discuss his inability to craft a suicide note. “To whom it may concern,” one crumpled leaf of yellow paper reads, unable to muster more than the barest rudiments of formula, and the same could be said of the film itself. As written by Jessie Gabe and directed by former Beverly Hills, 90210 star Jason Priestley, the ghastly Cas & Dylan features characters learning life lessons, coming to accept each other’s foibles, and desperately striving to reproduce the twee pleasures of Juno or (500) Days of Summer, but the only emotion one is likely to feel as the final credits roll is a delicious, pervasive relief.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, the old proverb promises, and viewed generously, the film simply mucks up its earnest take on the buddy movie with undercooked characters and on-the-nose writing. Yet Cas & Dylan, by raising the stakes to include life and death without offering so much as a single novel idea about either, is shadowed by the cynical opportunism of ambulance chasers and snake-oil salesmen, trying to profit from each character’s frailties, but never deigning to explain them. Cas and Dylan thus embark on their road trip by happenstance, a bit of nonsense involving her ex-boyfriend (Christopher Cordell), a car accident, and a used Volkswagen Beetle, and the ensuing narrative sketches their testy relationship in strokes as broad as a barn. “So what would you say your theme is?” Dylan asks, all too knowingly, of the suicide note. “Regret? Unrequited love?” “Death,” Cas replies. “The theme is death.”
With more saccharine pop cues than a “very special episode” of Glee, pausing only to gawk at the happiness of an aging couple (Corinne Conley and Eric Peterson) suffering, respectively, from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Cas & Dylan uses cheap sentiment to prop up a vanishingly thin narrative, though even at a relatively slim 90 minutes the film has the pacing of a death march. As affable as Dreyfuss and Maslany manage to be, the combination of the script’s worn “wisdom” and Priestley’s anodyne direction scrape away at the sugary notion that we’re all just waiting for the right person to reopen our hearts until all that’s left is the strange, unearned self-awareness that bubbles up throughout Cas & Dylan. Only a film as conceited in its conclusions as this one, when it comes to the work of grief, the approach of the end, and the need for human connection, could so comfortably describe itself in an editor’s (Susan Radford) withering assessment of Dylan’s manuscript. “There’s no through line, no point of view, and it’s completely unfocused, impersonal, and inauthentic,” she says. “You have no connection to the material, and it reads that way.”
Viewed ungenerously, then, as a gratingly simplistic portrait of the aforementioned “life lessons” and “personal growth,” Cas & Dylan possesses a mercenary sensibility, playing (or at least attempting to play) each protagonist’s trauma for laughs until it decides to play them for tears, convinced of its own sagacity even as it renders both Cas and Dylan as empty emblems of indie convention. In the final estimation, the film is as craven as an exploitation film and as blank as one of the doctor’s wadded-up pages, though in truth these qualms could be stated more directly. To whom it may concern: This movie sucks.