There’s a strange, almost ’80s feel to “The Sea Change,” a romantic British comedy that tries to be slick and witty but ends up looking out of tune with the times and trying too hard for effect. Thanks to an effortless supporting perf by Ray Winstone, and generally tight editing, the pic is an amiable enough time-waster about the humbling of an arrogant yuppie; however, it falls short of the glossy sophistication that the underworked script and not-quite-good-enough leads are aiming for. Up-and-coming production house Winchester Films, which scored a hit with “Shooting Fish” last year, doesn’t look to have much of a bigscreen winner here in Anglo markets.
Arrogant, workaholic merchant banker Rupert (Sean Chapman) can barely find time in his packed schedule for a birthday lunch with g.f. Alison (Maryam D’Abo), who, unbeknownst to him, is pregnant. The opening minutes show slick, bright promise as we’re introduced to Rupert, Alison and their equally stereotyped acquaintances: All of Rupert’s colleagues are toffee-nosed jerks, and Alison’s are gushy preppies.
But the subsequent early reels don’t maintain this momentum and are hit-and-miss. Promising to return the same day from a business trip to Barcelona, Rupert finds his well-oiled sked shot to shreds when the plane is diverted to Madrid. Worse, he ends up sharing a room with a working-class stiff (Winstone) he’s already bawled out on the aircraft.
Part of the problem is newcomer Michael Bray’s only-adequate direction, which for this kind of fare needs to be far better-tooled than here; another problem is the script by Bray and producer Billy Hurman, whose dialogue doesn’t sparkle the way it should and which needs a few more twists and turns than are evident in the by-the-numbers plotting.
Film mostly gets by on D’Abo’s wide-eyed, animated performance rather than Chapman’s rather charmless playing of the control-freak yuppie.
Some much-needed emotional ballast comes with the appearance of Winstone halfway through; his relaxed perf (the opposite of his foul-mouthed wife abuser in “Nil by Mouth”) shows that less can be more in experienced hands. Mark Thomas’ smooth score is a definite assist, and other behind-camera credits are pro on a budget.