WHAT DOESN'T FLOAT Review: Vignette Moments That Run Deep
It doesn't come up often in films set in New York, its proximity to, and importance of, the ocean and waterways. While many of us have a romantic idea of New York, films can convey the real, living city, showing us locations that only locals (yes, really locals) ever frequent, making us realize that, while the temper of any city is unique, there are ordinary (not ordinary) people living in each of them, untouched by that romantic idea. And what better way to explore this than in a series of vignettes highlighting the moments of strangeness and intensity that come without warning.
What Doesn't Float tells seven stories of people in strange moments of crisis, in locations and storeis centred around water - that life-giving substance that can often hide its secrets. Written by Shauna Fitzgerald, directed by Luca Balser, and starring (among others) Pauline Chalamet and Larry Fessenden, it has that (earned) DIY-indie vibe that is the perfect compliment to the city of its stories, and showcasing performances and writing that include moments in the lives of its characters that will become more pivotal than they realize.
We could imagine all these events happening on the same day: a man on a paddle board collecting bottles thrown into the canal, who has a rather painful misunderstanding with a bystander; a flirtacious young woman who finds her crush does not perhaps have the best intentions; the passing of wisdom between an old man and a child, and a moment of rage and protection; a young man's drug-induced moment of pleasure that turns into mistaken terror; a young woman who though she had a mystery held close to her heart that is wrenched away from her; a city boy's drunken folly that turns deadly; and an old man who finds himself redundant and panicked.
It's best not to attempt too much detail - suffice to say each story has its connection to sudden, heightened emotions, some miskates in choices, and a sense of longing for an often-ignored chasm of longing. We can get caught in a moment when we are not at our best; we can discover our assumptions about someone were wrong, and danger is lurking in unexpected places; we can find our own indulgence could mean danger for someone else. Fitzgerald's writing is strong not only in what's in the narrative, but what's between the lines. More importantly, it gives the actors great depth to work with in exploring these characters.
All the vignettes are strong, but highlights include one in which Ema (Cindy de la Cruz), perhaps still not able to accept that she's turned 30 years old fixates on the past; she tells her friends about a secret she's buried - something that keeps a metaphorical dark piece of herself. But when she can't find it, she blames herself for decisions, even if they were the right ones. Mike (Joel Nagle) is a fisherman who find himself too infirm to work anymore - as his boss says, he can't even tie a knot. Nights find him dreaming of being in a boat on the ocean, and it seems his body is determined to take him back to the water. And a seemingly insignificant moment between Marco (Larry Fessenden) and the young girl (Chanel & Dior Umoh) that turns both violent and compassionate.
Clocking in at a tight 70 minutes, it would not have been unwelcome to have one or two more stories. What Doesn't Float is a wonderfully crafted series of stories - each finding a different meaning to its place, to its character, to its exposure of the life of this corner of the city, and what it means to be a part of it.
What Doesn't Float will begin playing in select cities in the USA (September 22nd in New York at Roxy Cinemas; Octobert 6th in Los Angeles at Braindead Studios; October 13th in Seattle at The Beacon; October 16th in Cleveland at Woodward).