A generally likable pic about a family living on a small island off the coast of British Columbia in the 1960s, “The Lotus Eaters” could attract audiences willing to go along with the gentle mood and the sometimes awkward mixture of domestic drama and comedy. Prospects are hard to predict, but it will probably play better on the small screen than it will theatrically.
Paul Shapiro’s first feature centers on the Kingswood family and the small school of which Hal Kingswood (R.H. Thomson) is the rather old-fashioned headmaster. Hal and wife Diane (Sheila McCarthy) have two daughters, teenage Cleo (Tara Frederick), who is frustrated at not being allowed to go with b.f. Dwayne Spittle (Gabe Khouth) to the Beatles concert in nearby Vancouver, and 10 -year-old Zoe (Aloka McLean), who’s impressionable and romantic.
When the junior class teacher suddenly dies while supervising an exam, he’s replaced by an attractive young Quebecer, Anne-Marie Andrews (Michele-Barbara Pelletier), whom Zoe instantly adopts as a role model.
But Anne-Marie gradually drifts into an affair with Hal, which the horrified Zoe discovers. The secret is revealed at a disastrous Christmas Day family gathering, temporarily splitting the family apart. At about the same time, Cleo announces she’s pregnant and that she doesn’t believe in marriage.
With its mixture of comedy and drama, romance and magic, nostalgia and disenchantment, “The Lotus Eaters” tries a bit too hard to be charming, which it is as long as McLean is onscreen — the young actress makes a very favorable impression as the grave, sensitive Zoe. As the disruptive young woman from the East, Pelletier is also fine, though the character’s motivations are murky at times.
Less successful is the usually reliable Thomson in the pivotal role of the philandering Hal; the actor seems unsure how to handle some scenes, especially the crucial Christmas Day sequence in which a situation of high drama is played as though it were farce — an interesting concept, but one that doesn’t work. As the betrayed wife, McCarthy is unusually subdued. The “happy ending” seems tacked on.
Apart from the performances of McLean and Pelletier, the film’s chief asset is the attractive evocation of the island community and the feeling that, with the imminent onset of the hippie era, things will never be quite the same again.
Thomas Burstyn’s camera work is attractive, and tech credits are all pro.