An American debutante discovers the beauty of the Canadian Rockies and finds the love of her life in Drawing Home, a ploddingly old-fashioned romance set in the 1930s. Non-Canadians will likely be unfamiliar with the story of artists Catharine and Peter Whyte, and while the biopic sheds light on their pioneering devotion to Banff National Park and its wild beauty, director Markus Rupprecht and his co-writer, Donna Logan, never get beyond the handsome period surface to an involving emotional core..
Characters say precisely what they mean in the film, its flat dialogue a shortcoming not countered by the bland central performances of Juan Riedinger (Narcos) and Julie Lynn Mortensen, in her feature debut. The supporting contributions of a few seasoned actors lend a bit of welcome subtlety, but also accentuate what's missing from the main action..
Mortensen plays Catharine Robb, the spirited daughter of a well-to-do Massachusetts couple (Kate Mulgrew and Peter Strauss). Much to the delight of her status-conscious mother, she's being courted by John D. Rockefeller III (Jeff Gladstone). But her deepening friendship with a fellow art-school student, Peter Whyte (Riedinger), soon shatters her mother's visions of ever-higher social climbing..
At a point of extreme family crisis, Catharine finds herself needing to escape her disapproving mother and, responding to Peter's open invitation to visit him during the summer in his hometown of Banff, makes the trip from la-di-da Concord to rustic western Canada. In a touch of old-school propriety that recalls It Happened One Night without coming close to that classic's romantic frissons, they become chaste roommates in his cabin, their sleeping quarters separated by a blanket hung across the room.
The cabin is on loan to Peter from Carl Rungius (Rutger Hauer), one of the established wilderness painters who have hired him as a guide through the untamed terrain. Rungius encourages Whyte and facilitates his first sale, to a visiting art patron (a well-cast but seriously underused Wallace Shawn).
Much as Catharine favors landscape over portraiture, Rupprecht conveys the characters' connection to the natural setting more effectively than their internal and interpersonal struggles. Mulgrew (Orange Is the New Black) and Kristen Griffith, as Catharine's trusted nanny, are given more room to dig into their roles than most of the supporting cast, which includes Judith Buchan and John Treleaven as Peter's parents, Christian Campbell (True Detective) as his brother, Torrance Coombs as his mathematician friend and Helmer Twoyoungmen as his surrogate father from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
In scenes of serene plein air communion on the shores of Lake Louise and in sequences of wintry calamity, cinematographer Patrick McLaughlin accentuates the untouched vastness of the landscape. (Banff and Yoho national parks provided many of the locations.) Dramatically, though, the story and the characters remain stubbornly two-dimensional.
In the later going, Riedinger does what he can to suggest an inner life through his character's struggles with alcohol and other health problems. But Rupprecht undercuts his efforts with his ham-handed direction, which never finds the right proportions or sense of historical impact for the true-life saga.
In its final moments, Drawing Home reveals an affecting synchronicity between Catharine and Peter, one that might be called spiritual, metaphysical or a matter of destiny — and one that makes you wish the movie had dared to leap off its safe, connect-the-dots narrative path.