Arts movie review

A long, slow year by the sea

Award-winning composer’s directorial debut falls flat

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Karen Allen (Joan) dances on Nauset Light Beach with Celia Imrie (Erikson) in 'Year By The Sea,' a dramedy based on the NYT bestseller.
Dana Starbard

Year By The Sea
Directed by Alexander Janko
Screenplay by Alexander Janko
Starring Karen Allen, Yannick Bisson, Celia Imrie
Unrated, Now Playing

A good movie is like a good sandwich — solid context on the outside with juicy conflict filling the center. A Year by the Sea, if a sandwich, is a bit dry. While it contained numerous micro-conflicts, it lacked a strong plotline: a sandwich filled only with bread.

Year By The Sea, which won many film festival awards before its release, is the movie adaptation of Joan Anderson’s autobiography. It follows a middle-aged Joan as she recovers from empty-nest syndrome and rediscovers herself on a year-long trip to Cape Cod. It is also the directorial debut of Alexander Janko, known for composing the score of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

Unfortunately, Janko fell flat on his newest film, resulting in an uncomfortable amalgamation of plotless scenes and seaside footage, inlaid with inexplicably depressing piano sounds.

Luckily, the film is redeemed by the quality of the acting. Karen Allen, who plays Joan, is appropriately convincing as someone who worries about worrying too much and gets excited over seals. She manages to keep a straight face through all of the stilted conversation her character experiences: for example, when her husband Robin (Michael Christofer) tells her “[I love you] because you’re my wife, Joan. Men love their wives … and their mothers.”

In the end, though,Year By The Sea can only be described as a compilation of cringe-worthy dialogue masquerading as a spiritual journey to which almost every character contributes. Joan’s editor, for one, announces to Joan, “You’ve clipped coupons for 30 years. It’s time to cash them in.” Even the story’s hot fisherman, who is not only married, but visibly younger than Joan, finds the time to tell the protagonist that “the real loneliness, Joan, is not knowing who you are.” Oh, and that he wants to meet her husband “just to see if it’s true: you being married and all.”

Don’t get me wrong — Year By The Sea was not falsely advertised. By the time its end credits roll, Joan has undergone a positive change in mentality thanks to her newfound friends, including the seals. Even the title was accurate: the movie felt as long as year.