Floating" is a well-crafted but largely unremarkable drama about a former high school swimming champ who drifts into an aimless life of fast times and petty crimes. Pic likely will bob to the surface as pay cable filler before sinking into oblivion. Newcomer Norman Reedus, who'll soon be seen in "Mimic" and "Reach the Rock," plays Van, a moody young man who lives with his hard-drinking father (Will Lyman) in a summer-resort community. Four years earlier, when Van was 16, his father lost his legs in a drunken-driving mishap. Shortly afterward, Van's mother walked out when she could no longer take her husband's depression and alcoholism. Now father and son live year-round in a run-down cottage, not too far from their old family home.
Van spends much of his time looking after his father, who spends most of his time in a boozy, embittered stupor. Partly because he resents his well-off neighbors, and partly because he doesn’t have anything better to do, Van joins two wild-living friends, Flip (Josh Marchette) and Jason (Jonathan Quint), as they burglarize the homes of the summer residents. They stash their ill-gotten gain in the basement of Van’s old house. But when a new family moves into the house, complications arise.
Doug (Chad Lowe), the family’s college-age son, befriends Van. More important, he helps his new buddy remove the stolen goods from the basement. Since Doug is a swimming champ just like Van used to be, the two young men begin to hang out together. As time goes by, they confide a great deal in each other, and Van finds it easy to sympathize with Doug’s complaints about a father who demands too much and loves too little.
It isn’t exactly surprising when Doug admits he is gay. What is surprising is the intelligent way writer-director William Roth handles a plot development that, in lesser hands, could have been exploited for overwrought melodrama. Van is a straight arrow, but he accepts the news of Doug’s sexual persuasion with scarcely a raised eyebrow. And while Doug clearly isn’t blind to Van’s hunkiness, he doesn’t make any moves on his friend. Much of “Floating” is overly familiar, if not formulaic, but Roth shows admirable restraint by refusing to turn his pic into a story of unrequited love.
Unfortunately, “Floating” does become the kind of movie in which someone has to die before the other characters can begin to straighten out their lives. There is a disappointing predictability to the later scenes, and pic’s final image is almost laughable in its literal-mindedness.
Before the cliches begin to rain down in earnest, and even for a while afterward, “Floating” is kept afloat by the sincerity of its lead performances. Lowe is exceptionally good as an all-American boy who begins to crack under the pressure of his macho father’s hectoring demands. Reedus does a fine job of conveying Van’s feelings of anxiety, resentment and free-floating rage, along with a growing fear that time is passing and choices are diminishing. Lyman takes care not to overplay the drunk scenes, and manages a few moments of genuine poignancy.
Wolfgang Held’s sharp color lensing is a definite plus. Other tech credits suggest Roth, a first-time filmmaker, already knows a lot about making the most of a limited budget.