Heartland: Year by the Sea
“Year by the Sea” seems like your average everyday midlife crisis film, capturing the essence of empty-nesters’ angst and adding an element of fish-out-of-water. So in other words, it is your average, everyday midlife crisis film.
Joan is a woman (Karen Allen) at a crossroads: Her youngest son just married, and her husband, Robin (Michael Cristofer), just found out his job has been relocated to Topeka, Kansas. Instead, she informs her husband that she’s shuffling off to Cape Cod, hoping some time on the beach will help her restore her mojo.
She finds a sleepy burg with secrets and problems of its own, and soon she finds herself both fitting in with and judged by the townsfolk. She finds a job and makes friends, though some people are less than excited to see her coming to town.
“Year by the Sea” is a film that hits all of the familiar beats of the newly liberated empty-nester and the stranger-in-a-strange-land genres: There’s the free-spirited best friend (Celia Imrie), who challenges Joan to throw caution to the wind, the downtrodden abused friend (Monique Gabriela Curnen), who is victimized by her husband, and the handsome younger man (Yannick Bisson), whose kindness helps Joan find her footing.
We hits all of the regular beats on cue, but the film has a bit of a faulty moral compass. The prospect of infidelity is brought up, but is treated more as another step in the journey rather than a real moral dilemma, and both characters’ choices seem to be excused by what they perceive as having overbearing or inadequate mates of their own.
Character development is relatively thin, though the actors are mostly likable. Allen in particular carries the film well, and it leaves us to wonder why between the mid-’80s and today she didn’t have a more successful movie career. She’s still a striking woman and can hold a film.
But “Year by the Sea” is a moderately engaging picture, one with enough charm and a healthy-enough fantasy life to be diverting and at times entertaining. It could stand for some better-developed antagonists, but is overall a good-hearted film that will provide the chicken soup a soul occasionally needs.