“YEAR BY THE SEA”
A Time of Discovery
Alexander Janko’s “Year By the Sea” takes us on a journey of self-discovery and friendship with three women of the baby-boomer generation. Empty-nester Joan Anderson (Karen Allen) decides not to follow her husband, Robin (Michael Cristofer), when he is relocated to Kansas because of work. She is alone now since her two adult children are no longer at home and she retreats to Cape Cod to rediscover herself and redefine her life. He is filled with guilt and questions her decision until she meets a spirited mentor, Joan Erikson (Celia Imrie) who is an author and wife of famed psychologist Erik Erikson (Alvin Epstein), who coined the term “identity crisis.” With a support group that includes her literary agent and a host of locals, Joan learns to embrace her life discovering the balance between self and sacrifice, obligation and desire.
Joan hopes to begin writing again while finding peace of mind far away from her family. She becomes friendly with fisherman, John Cahoon (Yannick Bisson), and he hire hers, temporarily, at his local fish market. There she meets Joan, who’s grieving the loss of her husband and begins her quest to find true happiness and to get to know herself officially begins.
This is a filled with humanism that both entertains and provoking viewers emotionally as well as intellectually. There are also many surprises in the film that add to the pleasure of viewing. If you have ever been to Cape Cod, you are aware of the beauty there and the place actually becomes a character in the film.
Retiring from motherhood after 30 years doesn’t just mean losing responsibilities, Joan learned. She also learned that for her it means losing part of her identity. She realizes it’s been a long time since she’s decided her life’s direction. Then instead of moving to the Midwest with Robin, she drives to Cape Cod and rents a beach house until an undermined amount of time.
The film is based on the memoirs of Joan Anderson and this Alexander Janko’s writing and directing debut. Karen Allen brings a warmth and humanity to the drifting Joan. The best moments of this film are when she is acting silently, not just because of the absence of clunky lines, but because Allen shows Joan’s mind moving with every shot. When she is walking on the beach, rearranging pillows or learning to steer a rowboat, her face tells a story.
Each of the other characters feels lived-in, complex and interesting enough to even be turned into a protagonist. Although Anderson’s husband does have flaws like all of us, he is not a villain and has many redeeming qualities. Director Janko understands that the more specific a story is, the more universal it becomes. He also finds the right balance between light and dark elements. Many scenes are uplifting, but there’s also some gentle, underlying sadness and tragedy lurking beneath the surface. It is like life. I found the film to be not only life-affirming but inspirational something we do not see enough of.
“Year By the Sea” Opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and The Sunshine in New York on September 8 and at the Royal, Town Center and Playhouse 7 in Los Angeles on September 15.