Year by the Sea


Year by the Sea  (2017)    Real Women Make Waves/Comedy-Drama    RT: 114 minutes    No MPAA rating (language, some violence, sexual discussion, thematic elements)    Director: Alexander Janko    Screenplay: Alexander Janko    Music: Alexander Janko    Cinematography: Bryan Papierski    Release date: September 22, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Karen Allen, Yannick Bisson, S. Epatha Merkerson, Michael Cristofer, Celia Imrie, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Jane Hajduk, Amy Van Nostrand, Kohler McKenzie, Alvin Epstein.   



 Year by the Sea is the latest indie comedy-drama to showcase an older actress. There have been several such movies these past few years; I think it’s time I come up with a term for them. Let’s call them “ACA Movies” as in Actor of a Certain Age. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

 The star of Year by the Sea is Karen Allen. It seems like only yesterday I was sitting in a theater watching her in Raiders of the Lost Ark and having impure thoughts (I was 13, what do you expect?). At 65, she looks a bit older but hasn’t lost any of the pluck that made her Indiana Jones’ most interesting sidekick. With her freckles still clearly visible, she’s one of those eternally youthful types. In Year by the Sea, Allen plays Joan Anderson (on whose memoir the film is based), a 60-ish woman who’s reached a crossroads in her life. Her two sons are grown and on their own. In fact, one of them gets married in the film’s opening moments. It’s at this wedding that Joan accidentally learns that her husband Robin (Cristofer, Mr. Robot) has put their house up for sale. He also accepted a transfer from New York to Wichita, KS. He didn’t consult her on either decision which leads Joan to make a decision of her own. She rents a home in Cape Cod for a year with the intention of living there entirely on her own.

 Year by the Sea-posterThe house is one of those old quaint dwellings in need of some maintenance. She’s constantly fixing the water pipes with duct tape. If she wants to go into town, she has a take a rowboat. The town itself is occupied by eccentric locals like Cahoon (Bisson, Murdoch Mysteries), a fisherman who hires Joan to work the counter at his shop. Joan Anderson meets Joan Erikson (Imrie, Bridget Jones’s Diary), a bohemian type who introduces her new friend to the joys of dancing on the beach naked (but covered with a blanket) and driving wildly on the sand. It turns out her husband (Epstein) is a noted psychologist who authored a popular book about the eight stages of life. He now resides in a nursing home and doesn’t speak.

 Joan A. is supposed to be writing a new book but despite pressure from her agent and friend Liz (Merkerson, Chicago Med), she can’t think of a single thing to write about. Year by the Sea follows Joan A. over the course of a year. If I had to sum up the movie is a single statement, it would be this: How Joan Got Her Groove Back. In the end, it’s all about Joan finding herself after 30-odd years of being married to a man who took the lead in every aspect of their life. She needs to become independent again. She also longs for adventure. The move to Cape Cod kills two birds with one stone.

 While pleasant, agreeable and charming, Year by the Sea feels like a trip through familiar territory. It’s completely predictable with its characters and situations like the shopkeeper (Curnen, TV’s Taken) being abused by her alcoholic beau (McKenzie). Its blend of warm humor and melodrama feels just right. The Cape Cod scenery is absolutely gorgeous as is the many shots of local wildlife especially harbor seals. Where Year by the Sea really succeeds is the easy sense of camaraderie between the three main female characters- i.e. the two Joans and Liz. Allen carries the movie like the pro that she is with the help of a more-than-capable cast. Imrie and Merkerson are also very good. It plays like a Lifetime movie with its female empowerment message but it’s also quite charming and buoyant. It’s a light-hearted self-discovery piece a la Under the Tuscan Sun and Paris Can Wait. It’s satisfying without being particularly substantial. 

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