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Sunday, May 07, 2006

'Clear Day' is a chick-flick for guys

PLOT: A middle-aged man loses his job and hits upon the idea of swimming the English Channel as one way to regain his self-respect and confidence. It's a journey that forces him to deal with the past, too.

You really can have too much of a good thing.

On A Clear Day is an endearing film with first-rate performances -- and it will probably be lost in the wave of Full Monty think-alike movies currently out there. Too bad.

On A Clear Day
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Like Kinky Boots and other similar plucky/indomitable spirit/there'll always been an England type movie outings, On A Clear Day is about one man's response to a personal crisis.

Frank (Peter Mullan) is a shipbuilder in Glasgow, and at 55 years old finds himself out of work. Frank is angry and confused at being laid off, but there's more to it than that. Without the anchor of work, he is adrift in a sea of emotions he doesn't know how to navigate. He and his wife (Brenda Blethyn) had two sons, one of whom drowned in childhood. That is a tragedy Frank has never really processed. And he and his other son, Rob (Jamie Sives) have a strained relationship.

For a variety of reasons, Frank decides that what he wants to do next is swim the English Channel. One of his first supporters is Chan (Benedict Wong), who owns the local fish and chips shop. Then Frank's mates (Billy Boyd, Ron Cook and Sean McGinley) all decide to help out with the swim as well, and they decide to keep it all a secret.

Frank trains; Frank's wife finds out about the swim; Frank and his wife quarrel; Frank swims; does Frank triumph? We'll never tell.

On A Clear Day has the same rise-above-adversity themes as similar movies, but it also has a half-dozen scenes that make it more interesting than that. And nearly all those scenes are about various aspects of Frank's personality. Frank is a complicated character. From his panic attack over being laid off, to his chats with his grandson and even to his guilty need to avoid having coffee with his adult son, Frank is established as a stand-up guy who struggles with the emotional side of life. He is endlessly admirable; thanks to yet another note-perfect performance from Peter Mullan, On A Clear Day offers an unusually good portrait of mid-life crisis.

Flawed by moments of sitcom humour, On A Clear Day still manages to tell an engaging story about men, work and friendship. It's like a chick flick for guys, which would make it a di -- oh, never mind.

BOTTOM LINE: Too familiar in some respects, as storytelling goes, but the saving grace here is Peter Mullan's performance as a man trying to cope with the emotional side of life. And who can argue with a Brenda Blethyn performance?

*Review By LIZ BRAUN - Toronto Sun


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