Susan Granger’s review of “Year by the Sea”
Based on Joan Anderson’s New York Times best-selling memoir, filmmaker Alexander Janko has made one of those rare, feel-good films that celebrates middle-aged women.
At her son’s wedding reception, Joan (Karen Allen) learns that her husband’s New York office is moving to Wichita, Kansas, and she’s expected to go along with the unexpected relocation.
Since her 30-year marriage to Robin (Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer) has gone stale, Joan decides, instead, to go to off-season Cape Cod to rediscover herself and redefine her life. She’s a writer, so maybe she can find inspiration there.
To her initial dismay, Joan discovers that the rustic cottage that she rented – sight unseen – is a bit off-shore, requiring her to learn to navigate a rowboat.
The next morning, she meets a woman, also named Joan (Celia Imrie), who’s ecstatically dancing on the beach. She’s the wife of pioneering psychologist Erik Erikson (Alvin Epstein), who coined the term “identity crisis.” This free-spirited, new friend becomes her mentor, guiding her gradual, restorative transformation.
Plus there’s hunky clam-digger John Cahoon (Yannick Bisson), who not only takes her out on his fishing boat, aptly dubbed Seal Woman, so she can view seals cavorting on a sand bar, but also offers her a job at his fish market.
Joan’s other acquaintances include long-suffering Luce (Monique Gabriela Cuman), who runs the coastal coffee shop, and her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend, Billy (Kohler McKenzie). Plus there’s the continual support of Joan’s literary agent, Liz (S. Epatha Merkerson).
“I feel a bit like a boat – adrift – with nothing to steady me,” she explains.
Composer Alexander Janko (“Anastasia,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) makes his writer/director debut with this gentle, cliché-riddled, anecdotal melodrama, picturesquely filmed by Bryan Papierski in Chatham, Orleans and Wellfleet in Massachusetts.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Year by the Sea” is a subtly sincere, if soggy 6. If you liked “Eat Pray Love,” “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “45 Years,” you’ll enjoy this.