Earnest, rudimentary drama evokes coastal New England in winter and a tough situation — coming out to your Boston-Brahmin parents. Thanks to accessible theme and realistic sex scenes, “Treading Water” will do swimmingly on gay and lesbian circuit, but it’s not much more than a calling-card effort and will sink soon after that.
Pic’s biggest problem is leaden lead Angela Redman, who has a handsome face but is stoical to the point of utter disinterest as Casey, a Massachusetts woman shaking off upper-crust expectations to try commercial fishing. Too bad she hasn’t escaped the guilts expertly laid on by her pearl-draped mom (Annette Miller), who refuses to allow Casey’s longtime lover, Alex (an OK Nina Landey), into the house, even at Christmastime.
The big clan means a lot to Casey, so this boringly dutiful daughter keeps knuckling under, without knowing that Alex is already involved, as a drug counselor, with Casey’s beloved little brother. Helmer/co-scripter Lauren Himmel has an eye for naturalistic detail, and individual moments play well, but she keeps trying to beef up the drama in a way that betrays lack of confidence in the material. New characters keep popping up in the final quarter, with the most egregious element an out-of-nowhere flashback to a highly tangential tragedy that the pic can’t accommodate five minutes before its end.
Lysa Apostle, as a loud-mouthed, thoroughly lipsticked-and-leopard-skinned buddy, adds some over-the-top comedy, which turns out to be welcome in an overly flat thesping landscape, with New Englanders spending far too much time staring at each other and blinking. Tinkly piano score is pleasant, if a bit undefined.
Transfer from super-16 to 35mm is solid; pic has a gray, washy look to go with its off-season seaside setting.