Joan Anderson’s best selling memoir A Year By The Sea about when she took herself off from her moribund marriage after she became an empty nester, has finally been adapted into a movie. The story however is less about falling out of love with her rather whiny husband Robin (Michael Cristofer) (who would frankly test the patience of a Saint), and much more about a love affair with an isolated patch of Cape Cod’s beautiful coastline.
It all starts when Joan (Karen Allen) is celebrating her son’s wedding, and she also discovers by chance that Robin’s company is re-locating him from the East Coast to Wichita, Kansas. If that isn’t enough to give you restless leg syndrome, then what is? So egged on by her literary agent and best friend S. Epatha Merkerson to start writing again, she takes it up on herself to find a deserted spot to try just that for the next year. As it is Fall and ‘off-season’ she easily finds her rather ramshackle ‘dream cottage’ oozing with charm, which is on a tiny island only reachable by dory from Chatham.
On the mainland she soon makes two new friends Cahoon (Yannick Bisson) a younger drop-dead handsome fisherman and the personal savior of all the local disadvantaged people, and another Joan (Celia Imrie) a rather eccentric local woman whose famous writer husband is dying, yet who somehow dances through her days on some incredible high. There is also Luce (Monique Gabriela Curnen) who runs the local General Store and Bar when she is not being beaten up by drunk jealous boyfriend.
Being surrounded by all this stunning scenery and nature, and being welcomed into the small local community (she even gets Luce to stand up to her abusive boyfriend and saves their relationship) Joan’s life comes over as a tad too unrealistic to be believable, where even working selling fish becomes a sheer joy for her. When Robin comes for the Christmas holidays and is horrified by the quaintness of her living situation and how happy Joan is her little escapist world, we are given the impression that this truly marked the end of the marriage, only to discover at the end of the movie (and year) that we were totally wrong.
The very talented Allen gives a very credible performance as Joan and confidently makes her new life seem so idyllic that it will no doubt encourage scores of other women to now want to try it too. However the adaptation from memoir to movie definitely lost some of the compelling nature of Anderson’s story and some of the realism too. So much so that the film ends up seeming much more of a travelogue than a tale of re-discovering oneself. However if you love this part of the world that much, then that is maybe perfectly understandable too.