Review: On a Clear Day

It’s all very, very adorable and uplifting in spite of Gaby Dellal’s half-hearted attempts to affect a grave, tortured tone.

On a Clear Day
Photo: Focus Features

Despite one’s fondest wish that the idiosyncratic, inspirational, English-flavored comedies spawned by The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine would be left to drown out at sea, along comes Gaby Dellal’s On a Clear Day to carry on the genre’s tradition of curdled sentimentality. A superficially more somber variation on Anthony Hopkins’s recent moto-fogy fable The World’s Fastest Indian, Dellal’s directorial debut concerns laid-off shipbuilder Frank (Peter Mullan), an introverted Brit whose continuing misery over the death of a young son has led to alienation from wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn, doing her usual semi-old-biddy routine) and surviving son, Rob (Jamie Sives). Complemented by a trio of sidekicks, the aimless, hopeless Frank suffers a panic attack, finds it impossible to communicate with Rob (a stay-at-home dad to twin boys), and miserably stares off into nothingness until, thanks to an offhand remark by one of his cohorts, he decides to swim the English Channel. Also enlisting the help of bullied food joint owner Chan (Benedict Wong), Frank and his lively mates begin a rigorous training regimen of swimming, bickering, and acting slightly less glum—a montage-friendly process kept secret from Joan, who’s similarly trying to “find a purpose” by clandestinely becoming a licensed bus driver, and aided (via boat-lending) by a cute deviant named Merv the Perv (Tony Roper) and, later, a cute psycho named Mad Bob (Paul Ritter). It’s all very, very adorable and uplifting in spite of Dellal’s half-hearted attempts to affect a grave, tortured tone, and though Mullan’s performance is authentically severe and intense, he’s regularly undercut by his associates’ strained cheerfulness and a folksy musical score utilized as a sonic hand-holding device for those who otherwise wouldn’t know how to emotionally react to a given scene. Incidents such as Frank finding the fortitude to continue his quest by watching a disabled boy successfully swim across a pool, however, require no instructive melodic underlines. I know when to gag on my own.

Score: 
 Cast: Peter Mullan, Brenda Blethyn, Billy Boyd, Ron Cook, Shaun Dingwall, Jodhi May, Sean McGinley, Paul Ritter, Jamie Sives, Benedict Wong, Anne Marie Tomoney, Tony Roper  Director: Gaby Dellal  Screenwriter: Alex Rose  Distributor: Focus Features  Running Time: 99 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2005  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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