Year by the Sea

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  Year by the Sea
 

Joan (Karen Allen) is a newly minted empty nester with one son, Andrew (Tyler Haines) getting married and the other, Luke (Graham King), off to college. When her husband, Robin (Michael Cristofer), sells the family business and home without consulting her, Joan decides that she needs time alone and spends a “Year by the Sea.”

Robin:
Composer-turned-writer/director Alexander Janko adapts Joan Anderson’s biographical novel about a woman who had given her life to being a good wife and mother. She has grown so far apart from her husband, Robin, that he does not even include her in life-affecting decisions. This is the prompting factor (foreshadowed with Joan looking at a tourist brochure for Cape Cod) that pushes Joan on the first solo adventure of her life.

This is the story of woman who finally “finds herself” after decades of being a wife and mother, always responsible for looking after others and not herself. When she has the realization that she now has an empty nest – and an indifferent husband – she treks off to the Cape.

You know it is “the Cape” because we are presented, in quick order, a montage of Cape Cod scenes: the Sagamore Bridge, the Cape Cod Canal, cranberry bogs being harvested, scenic beaches, a quaint town, local radio reports about seals and great white sharks and, finally, Larry’s PX Restaurant. If you do not figure out it is the Cape, well….

Then, we have the trials and tribulations of Joan as she navigates the new life she has taken on. I say “navigates” because her first ordeal is, after getting the keys to her new home, rowing a boat, by herself and, apparently, she knows nothing about boats or rowing. My question is: why would her new landlord allow an obvious novice to fend for herself and send her off to sea alone? This is just one of the many manufactured clichés trotted forth that Joan must face in “Year by the Sea.”

Of course, Joan slowly adjusts to her new surroundings, making friends with the locals, taking a job to make ends meet and having a positive influence on all. One of her new friends is Luce (Monique Gabriela Curnen), who runs the above mentioned restaurant and has an abusive, drink-prone husband, Billy (Kohler McKenzie). The abuse does not go unnoticed with Joan, to expected results.

Joan also meets a lady also named Joan (Celia Imrie) on the beach, a free spirit who is caring for her failing-health husband, Eric (Alvin Epstein). Her new friend has a real lust for life and helps Joan become her true self with her self-affirming bon mots. She also meets, and eventually works for, the owner of the local fish market and a fisherman, too, Cahoon (Yannick Bisson). He represents the chaste love interest and rugged-individual type that the story requires.

I should be really negative about a story riddled with clichéd concepts, situations and characters. But, watching the earnest effort by its tyro writer/director, Alexander Janko, and the better-than-it-should-be cast, while I rolled my eyes many times, entertained me nonetheless. I give it a C.

Laura:
At her son's wedding, Joan Wilcox (Karen Allen, "Raiders of the Lost Ark") learns her husband Robin (Michael Cristofer, TV's 'Mr. Robot') has put their home on the market.  He's made the decision to take a job transfer to Wichita rather than 'be put out to pasture,' but new empty nester Joan has other ideas, like a "Year by the Sea."

The middle-aged female empowerment movie has become its own genre, charting women like "Shirley Valentine" who realize their life has been consumed by domestic drudgery and decide to do something about it, typically by traveling to a new place and indulging in a little romance.  Unfortunately, they quickly became steeped in cliche, but writer/director/composer Alexander Janko, adapting Joan Anderson's memoirs, plumbs new depths in his Cape Cod seashore set tale with a script that confuses motivational poster phrases for dialogue, a character who continually twirls about with scarves and saccharine music you'll swear you've heard before.  It's almost oddly entertaining as it keeps going exactly where you hope it won't.

We know we've left reality as Joan drives across a traffic free Sagamore Bridge onto Cape Cod.  'You must be the renter,' Luce (Monique Gabriela Curnen, "Contagion"), the woman who runs Larry's PX guesses.  She hands over a key and a flashlight, instructing Joan to 'kick the door if it doesn't open' and to use the flashlight to turn the breakers on.  Joan arrives at her hastily rented beach house and learns she has to use a rowboat to access it.

Walking in the morning fog, Joan runs into another Joan (Celia Imrie, "Bridget Jones's Diary," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") dancing around like a senior sprite, a new friend. Sitting at the PX counter later, Joan picks up on fishermen's talk about seals and says she'd like to see them.  The younger, good looking Cahoon (Yannick Bisson, TV's 'Murdoch Mysteries') offers to take her.  Later, she'll apply for a job at Hatche's Fish Market where Cahoon becomes her boss.  He's interested.  But Robin also wants to hear from her, having sent a cell phone.  And there's her literary agent Liz (S. Epatha Merkerson, TV's 'Law & Order,' "Lincoln") waiting for news on her new book.

Karen Allen is appealing, but not quite enough to believe a man twenty years younger would have his head turned, despite Joan's talent for clamming.  It's not enough for Joan to find herself, so she must save Luce from her abusive, alcoholic husband Billy (an unconvincing Kohler McKenzie).  Scenes by the sea are lovely, as is a small town Christmas Eve pageant, but Janko's attempts at visual metaphors (seagulls signalling death and divorce, seals recast as selkies) are as corny as his dialogue.     Pity poor Michael Cristofer, whose Robin must transform himself from businessman to aging hippie in order to court his wife.

Just who is the audience for "Year by the Sea?" Maybe those who still enjoy Harlequin romances, a genre whose time has past.

Grade:  D
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