03.09.2013 10:36 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: wherein I say nice things about the NDP icon

Now, before you get all mad at me for having the gall to say nice things about the Jack Layton movie in these pages of all places, I respectfully suggest you get mad at Charles Adler first.

After all, I merely LIKED Jack. Adler — the prairie arch-conservative and slayer of all things socialistic — is actually IN Jack.

It’s true! Early on, as the film chronicles Layton’s career as a Toronto municipal politician, there’s an unforgettable scene where Layton appears on right-wing talk radio. And there, casting baleful looks, is Sun News’ own Charles Adler. Appearing, and sounding, mightily unimpressed.

Nobody does high dudgeon as well as my friend Adler. He deserves an Oscar for his performance as, well, himself. Two thumbs up!

The rest of the cast, you ask? They — particularly Rick Roberts, who turns in a stunningly great performance as the now-deceased NDP icon — are terrific, too. If the cast’s objective had been to make Layton’s story more personal than political, they succeeded.

If, however, viewers taking in Jack Sunday night on CBC are looking for more of the political and less of the personal, they will come away disappointed. Jack is much more about the man than the politician.

As such, Layton comes across as he was in life — much liked and, even for some, much loved. Even when a gay-hating constituent tosses a cup of hot coffee at his face, Layton is nonplussed.

Instead of going home and changing his shirt and tie, Layton goes ahead with a date with his future wife, Olivia Chow (played with great skill by Sook-Yin Lee). Chow’s mother tells her daughter that Layton is crazy.

In Jack, Layton isn’t crazy — but it is made clear that he regularly drove his staff and family crazy. His relentless positivism, it turns out, was no act. When things got bad (and they did often before May 2011), Layton would simply pick up his guitar and start singing. And thereby drive his staff and family crazy.

Among those driven batty by Layton’s unflagging optimism were his cadre of loyalists. So, we see actors portraying political legends like Brian Topp (with more hair), Brad Lavigne (with more height), as well as Karl Belanger and Anne McGrath (who has far more real-life charm than portrayed in the film), groaning about Layton’s refusal to ever accept life’s glass might be half empty.

Utterly missing from Jack is a hint, much less an explanation, for Layton’s extraordinary win in 2011.

Was it his shrewd use of his cane and his health issues, a la Lucien Bouchard? Was it his sunny personality, which contrasted so favourably to the glum Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff? His unflappable determination?

The viewer is left with no answers. An explanation might have made Jack better. And it might have assisted the NDP, too, now under Thomas Mulcair, looking like a shadow of what it was under Layton.

That aside, Jack is an enjoyable film about a pretty extraordinary fellow. One who, like Moses, led his followers to the political promised land, but who never got the chance to go there with them.

It’s on TV Sunday night, and it’s worth your time. And, if nothing else, it’ll give you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Charles Adler on the CBC!


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    Jon Adams says:

    If the filmmakers wanted to recreate the Adler experience, there would be a ten minute interval where he recites a monologue from another film vaguely connected with “Jack’s” plot.

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    Brammer says:


    Tonight could be the first time Adler has ever appeared on my tv screen.

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      Jon Adams says:

      Tonight could be the first time anyone under 60 sees Adler on television.

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    dave says:

    In the leadership preferential ballot back in the day, I voted for Bill Blaikie. He was in House of Commons, smart, passionate. I had Layton last on my ballot. I thought a leader from Toronto was not what we needed. They were all pretty good candidates,though. Balikie or Nystrom would have put a different stamp on things. Layton, in the House of Commons did a pretty good job, though, he sure liked to play party politics during the minority government years.

    I have noticed news people playing themselves in movies. I am not sure that is a good idea, but many decades ago, publishers decided to complete with media by making news a kind of entertainment, with “stars’ instead of reporters. That Knowlton Nash/Peter Mansbridge thing was about a star system, I thought, rather than about journalism. Perhaps this goes to the “What’s the matter with the newspaper biz?” thread that occurs here from time to time.
    Maybe it is right that Adler appears in an entertainment piece. That talk show format for news he does fits more the entertainment emphasis than the news information emphasis.

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      KP says:

      People are entertained by Charles Adler? Speaking from a strictly medical point of view: that shit be fucked up.

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    J.W. says:

    After a lifetime, I stopped supporting the NDP during the Layton period.
    I thought he spent way too much effort attacking the Liberals. Except for the brief “coalition” period, he had a under the table unwritten, unspoken alliance with Harper to destroy the Liberal Party, Dion in particular, and gain Leader of the Opposition. It worked. But not for the good of Canada. Harper was unscathed for years and had a free ride from the left.
    His cheap shot at Ignatieff over attendance during the debate was as dirty as anything Harper ever tried.

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    smelter rat says:

    I’ll be watching The Brier.

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      dave says:


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    KP says:

    Now we’ve got a Conservative majority for the next two and a half years. Thanks, Jack. [/sarcasm]

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