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On a Clear Day

Genre: Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
: Gaby Dellal
Starring: Peter Mullan, Brenda Blethyn, Sean McGinley, Jamie Sives, Benedict Wong, Billy Boyd
Released by: Focus Features

In Short: First-rate performances can't quite save this kind-hearted yet predictable drama from the deep blue sea.

Channel This
A Sentimental Script Weighs Down a Watery Journey
By Andrew Bender

Broadly speaking, three schools of British drama have crossed the pond: (1) the "If Only We Had Done Things Differently When We Were Younger, We Wouldn't Feel Such Pangs of Regret Now" School (“The Remains of the Day”), (2) the "Watch Out or You'll End Up with Your Head in a Toilet" School (“Trainspotting”), and (3) the "God Bless Us Every One" School (anything Dickens). “On a Clear Day” manages to combine all three, with muddled results.

We're not sure what the movie's title signifies, since most of the action has to do with water. Frank (Peter Mullan) is a fiftysomething shipbuilder in gloomy Glasgow who's lost his job as the film begins. After the compulsory sulk-fest, he embarks on a daft mission to swim across the English Channel. The results are a sort of "Billy Elliott and the Deep Blue Sea," in which the protagonist exorcises demons by means of an all-consuming activity, assisted by a heh-heh-quirky passel of mates with demons of their own.

Swimming the Channel is all-consuming. It's over 21 miles across (that's 1,360 laps in a swimming pool, or about 15 hours), and the temperature rarely rises above 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet despite this daunting challenge, somehow it was hard to root for Frank with the same enthusiasm as we did for the young, fleet-footed Billy.

Partly that's because Frank is a stoic whose nature is to endure rather than to strive (see School 1 above). Plus, the numerous B-stories, while well-delivered, are also pat: one of Frank's mates is stuck in a miserable janitorial job (see School 2), Frank's wife (Brenda Blethyn) just can't seem to pass the bus driver exam and Frank himself is estranged from his son (Jamie Sives). It’s clear from these characters’ stalled-out lives where they are ultimately going to end up (see School 3).

The actors are marvelous and their performances deep, yet none of it quite overcomes the shallow sentimentality of the script. After so much water, we emerged from the theater dry eyed.

(Published: 04/07/06)
(Updated 01/21/08 NJ)

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