Review by Sean Boelman
Typically, in the midst of awards season, there is one film that is a would-be awards contender that gets released quietly because it didn’t exactly turn out as planned. This year, it’s The Almond and the Seahorse, a movie with a premise that feels like clear Oscar bait but execution that is more akin to a Lifetime movie.
Based on a play by Kaite O’Reilly, the film follows two couples whose lives are torn apart by a traumatic brain injury. There are several routes this movie could have taken — a serious drama, a sweet romance, or something else — but the film instead goes for all of the above, and the result is uneven and messy.
The movie attempts to approach the sensitive topics of traumatic brain injury and memory loss, but it bites off more than it can chew. The few scenes in which the film does engage with the material are painfully obvious expositional dialogue. Other scenes seem to completely misunderstand the discussion around learning disabilities.
Although the movie is well-intentioned, its tone is so inconsistent that it’s hard to get on board. There are some parts in which it’s attempting to be horrifying and devastating a la The Father, and others where it’s sentimental and cheesy like 50 First Dates, and the constant tonal whiplash is frustrating.
Rebel Wilson is not particularly known as a dramatic actress, and while she shows some potential, it can be somewhat hard to take her seriously in the role. Particularly in the more intense dramatic moments, it almost feels as if she is whining, and as a result, viewers will unfortunately be left laughing at scenes that should be devastating.
Although Wilson’s character dominates the narrative, the film is clearly trying to be kaleidoscopic in nature. The result is that a second storyline — starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Trine Dyrholm as a couple going through a similar struggle as Wilson and her husband’s — feels entirely underdeveloped. It’s a shame, because Gainsbourg and Dyrholm are the more interesting performers.
Given that the movie is adapted from a play, there isn’t a ton of showiness to the execution, but it also fails to take advantage of the feeling of confinement like many other films about mental disability do. The whole thing has a very maudlin feel to it, not helped by oversaturated cinematography and an unfittingly vibrant score.
There are certainly some redeemable qualities to The Almond and the Seahorse, and its good intentions are quite obvious. Unfortunately, good intentions alone do not make a good movie, and the filmmakers’ misguided approach prevents this from being a worthy addition to the conversation.
The Almond and the Seahorse hits theaters and VOD on December 16.