A feel-good movie, “Year by the Sea,” is coming to the Film Center for one night, Wednesday, Sept. 13. It’s based on Harwich Port resident Joan Anderson’s New York Times bestselling memoir of the same name. It’s sure to cheer you up as we head into the darker days of fall. As part of the NY Film Critics Series, the film will be simulcast with post-screening discussion including actress Karen Allen, writer and director Alexander Janko, author Anderson, and others.
The film starts off on a sentimental note with a series of old home movies. The viewer soon learns they picture the family of Joan, played by Karen Allen, who appeared in “Animal House” (1978), and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). Her two sons are now grown up, and Joan is a writer whose 30-year marriage has gone stale. When her husband Robin (Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Michael Cristofer) gets transferred from New York City to Wichita, Kans., Joan decides not to go with him. She rents unseen a cottage on Cape Cod and leaves to “find herself.” Many misadventures ensue, followed by plenty of adventures, both of which lean toward the comic. Good or bad, all are upbeat, with lots of smiles and laughter.
Once Joan arrives on the Cape, she discovers she has to climb into a rowboat and row herself to her new home. The tiny cottage is not the luxury accommodation this New Yorker might have expected, but she settles in and starts trying figure out what to do next.
First she meets a free-spirited dancing woman, also named Joan (Celia Imrie), during a walk on the beach. This new Joan, who is married to psychologist Erik Erikson (he dies later in the film), becomes a mentor of sorts and helps smooth the transition to small-town life. At the lunch counter of the local general store, Joan meets John Cahoon (Yannick Bisson), a hunky clam digger. John agrees to take her out on his boat, aptly called Seal Woman, so she can watch seals cavorting in the nearby waters, and he dumps her on the beach while he digs for clams.
In her next impulsive move, Joan applies for a job at the local fish market, which happens to be run by John. She doesn’t lose contact with her husband, though, once he sends her a cell phone. All is not necessarily hunky-dory. Luce (Monique Gabriela Curnen) runs the lunch counter, and has Billy (Kohler McKenzie), an abusive drunk, for a boyfriend. Joan watches appalled as Billy takes a swing at Luce. Another figure who plays into the story is Joan’s agent Liz (S. Epatha Merkerson of “Law and Order”).
Writer/director/composer Alexander Janko is best known for composing the score to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The movie was shot in Orleans, Chatham, and Wellfleet by cinematographer Bryan Papierski. The movie’s strength is Papierski’s gorgeous shots of the Cape, illustrating the magic in Joan’s experiences. Its weakness, however, is a reliance on often clichéd dialogue and philosophizing. It’s hard to believe Joan’s life can have so few grim moments, but the movie does succeed in celebrating life as a middle-aged woman.
Information or tickets are available for this and other Film Center screenings at mvfilmsociety.com.