Film Review: DROWNING (directed by Melora Walters)

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by Tony Frankel on November 1, 2020

in Film


It’s unimaginable to think what parents go through when their child has been deployed to war. The wait, the worry, the hand-wringing. For  Rose (Melora Walters), her son’s deployment has put her in an implacable funk. She found heroin in his room, and told him if he’s gonna die it might as well be for his country. Now whenever she’s driving (in an oddly traffic-free and rainy Los Angeles), all she hears are noises of war. She goes to therapist Catherine (Joanna Going), takes swimming lessons from Henry (Jay Mohr), confers with her bookstore boss Mary (gorgeous and wasted Mira Sorvino), and refuses to shift even as her husband Frank (Gil Bellows) placates her and plans travel abroad. Her daughter (whom we never meet) hates her, too, as Rose says more than once (and we don’t know why). But I guess that makes sense: I was offscreen and I hated Rose, too.

Melora Walters and Mira Sorvino in DROWNING.

Writer/director/producer/performer Melora Walters — looking great at 61 — wrote this low-key little film based on her own experience as a military mother whose son went to Iraq. People talk to each other intelligently and methodically, like Woody Allen characters at their slowest. But this film is neither uplifting nor exciting in its instruction-manual-for-grieving way. “Help someone else out,” “Tell your story to a group,” and “Move to a new city” all fall on deaf ears. Which brings us to the main problem: The central character is so dour and stubborn and belligerent and whiny as to be wholly unlikeable. We don’t even get a glimpse of why Rose was so great in the first place that terrific people are attracted to her. Maybe she never was great. Maybe that’s why her daughter hated her.

Melora Walters and Jay Mohr in DROWNING.

It’s not that the film feels long at 83 minutes, it just keeps drowning in its good intentions due to the lack of a forward-moving arc. But Walters surrounded herself with some attractive, talented and well-off peeps to make this picture (wouldn’t you know, a few folks behind the camera, including the executive producer, made appearances in the film). Is that why nobody told Walters that her framing shots were often uninteresting AND went on too long? What does emerge is some great work from Mohr, especially given that his role is wholly undeveloped. That takes us to the pool and Vance Burberry’s glorious underwater photography. Christopher Soos’s brilliant cinematography, often shot in dusky, muted colors, is beyond commendable. The metaphor of going underwater and depression is clonked over our head repeatedly (Rose even swims in her bed while asleep!), as if there wasn’t enough to make this vanity project chain itself to the bottom of the sea.

Sarah Butler, Christopher Backus, Mira Sorvino, Melora Walters in DROWNING.

photos by Christopher Soos © 2020 Drowning Film Production Inc

Scene from DROWNING.

Potato Eater Productions & Room in the Sky Films
U.S. | 83 minutes | NR
released across all VOD platforms, Blu-ray & DVD October 20, 2020

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