Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Float’ Never Manages To Rise Above Meager Expectations

Director: Sherren Lee
Writers: Jesse LaVercombe, Sherren Lee, Kate Marchant
Stars: Robbie Amell, Andrea Bang, Sarah Desjardins

Synopsis: After she nearly drowns, a young woman unexpectedly falls for the small-town lifeguard who rescued her. Based on the novel by Kate Marchant.

At what point will audiences tire of predictable, stakeless romance? You know the type: the stories where girl meets boy, boy has demons, girl and boy fall in love, and boy inevitably says something stupid along the way that endangers the future of their liaison. These narratives have long-been layups for authors and screenwriters alike, particularly those in search of five-finger exercises they can dangle before a built-in audience that spends too much time scrolling endless lists of VOD titles before resorting to the viewing that looks the cutest. As a moviegoer who spends most of his time desperately seeking out fresh storytelling over recyclable fare — unless, of course, it’s for a review — I ask again: When will we collectively move beyond the need for these stories?

The simple answer? Probably never. The devil isn’t in the details, but in the ease with which these projects are crafted, performed, and thus delivered to prospective viewers like spoonfuls of sugar. So although Float, Sherren Lee’s debut feature, is merely a drop in this bucket, it’s still frustratingly unoriginal and telegraphed to within an inch of its life, par for the course in the corner of a genre that feels like it has failed to produce a birdie, much less a hole in one, for the better part of the 21st century. 

Lee’s film, based on Kate Marchant’s 2022 novel of the same name, centers on Waverly (Andrea Bang), a med student who has dutifully followed the predestined path her parents laid out for her at an early age. As the start date for her upcoming residency in Toronto inches closer, impulsivity kicks in and she ventures to a small Canadian town to visit her aunt (Michelle Krusiec) and figure out the part of life that places an emphasis on actually living. The town is quaint, and the people, welcoming; Waverly has been longing for connection, and almost immediately finds it, albeit a touch rudely.

The connection isn’t forced, per se, but it is brought on forcibly, when she falls into a lake at a beach party. Waverly, of course, can’t swim, and thus requires saving. Thank goodness the handsome, damaged lifeguard, Blake (Robbie Amell) — who lives next door to Waverly’s aunt — was there to break up the fight that knocked Waverly into the water, and to save her from certain sinkage. Once the two resurface and dry off, a connection has been formed, a mutual attraction has been established, and the groundwork for a summer romance, set in motion. Blake offers to teach Waverly how to swim. And what better for a budding love story than skin-to-skin contact in the shallow end.

But there are problems with this courtship. For one, Waverly still wants to be a doctor despite the reluctance to follow her parent’s plan to a tee. This detour wasn’t designed for roots to be planted, but for freedom to be enjoyed before the reality of responsibility sets in. As for Blake, he and his sister, Isabel (Sarah Desjardins), lost their parents at an early age, and he has vowed to protect her from the world he imagines as harsh and full of bad boyfriends. While Waverly can’t break free of the destiny she both wants for herself and wishes to reject because of parental influence, Blake can’t bring himself to fully open up because of his self-imposed responsibility, a lifeguard too busy making sure no one in his emotional purview sinks to realize that he can barely keep his own head above water.

It’s a tale as old as time, as long as time is measured in schlocky romantic dramas based on beach reads. A cute girl enters the unknown confines of a kitschy town and finds herself enamored with a local, and he with her, despite in/external distractions persistently threatening the fantasy. Netflix seems to adore churning out films of this ilk; 2022’s Along for the Ride comes to mind, though that flick’s heroine knew how to swim, but could neither let loose nor ride a bike. And while Float isn’t a Netflix product, it fits the mold most streaming libraries would find comfort in, their audiences following suit. This is a watchable film, and fairly well-performed one, but is ultimately an over-sanitized, sexless depiction of flirtation between adults that might as well be called The Summer I Turned Pretty and Learned How to Swim. (Or, better yet, Dr. Love or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pool.)

Back to that fairly well-performed element. I should clarify that neither Andrea Bang (previously seen in 2022’s Fresh and 2019’s Luce) nor Robbie Amell are asked to do much other than go on the charm offensive and stare longingly into each other’s eyes as everyone else in town roots for their future together. Bang successfully captures Waverly’s summer-long angst but doesn’t quite nail the heavier emotional elements of her character’s story, like the fact that, despite incessant pressure from her parents, she hasn’t seen them in years, for reasons unknown.

The more-recognizable Robbie Amell, meanwhile, remains a curious case of an actor. Probably best-known for looking like he’s never thrown a football before in 2015’s The DUFF, Amell is both hot and charismatic enough to lead an Amazon series and to stand out as one of the few real actors in C-films like The Babysitter and Simulant, but not nearly chameleonic or talented enough to have a Glen Powell-esque filmography. I’ll put it this way: If Amell was the dude under the brim of a cowboy hat in the trailer for the upcoming Twister sequel, Twisters, you’d buy him as a disposable heartthrob, not as an important force in the film’s central plot. 
Float’s principle issues, however, are embedded in the fabric of its genre, not its cast. The romantic framework is growing tired and repetitive, thus shaping misbegotten attempts at storytelling that fail to mine any real emotion from its narrative because the focus is elsewhere. Not everyone has to be Nora Ephron, nor should they even try. But unless filmmakers are willing — or able — to craft something new in this genre, or at worst, to convey a fresh sensation from something familiar, perhaps it’s best not to try altogether.

Grade: D

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