You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Treading Water’

Confused contrivances abound in this overly affected magic-realist fable.

Douglas Smith, Zoe Kravitz, Ariadna Gil, Don McKellar, Carrie-Anne Moss, Gonzalo Vega. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2091427/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1

Emitting the unpleasant stench of over-affectation, “Treading Water” slaps together its particular peculiarities with such randomness, it’s as if the film were conceived from blindly throwing disparate elements at the wall. Analeine Cal y Mayor’s feature helming debut piles on the arbitrary quirkiness in recounting the curious story of Mica, who’s born with the cursed body odor of a fish (hence the film’s original title, “The Boy Who Smells Like Fish”). What ensues is a magic-realist fable in which Mica attempts to overcome the social and romantic anxieties he develops thanks to his scent, all while living in a house that doubles as a tourist museum-cum-shrine to famed ’60s Mexican singer Guillermo Garibai (Gonzalo Vega), whose portraits and knick-knacks decorate its walls and velvet-roped hallways. It’s a setup of confused contrivances, and one that, despite proficient direction and a winning lead performance, is unlikely to make many commercial waves.

Mayor’s film opens with an animated sequence of an in-vitro fetus sprouting fingers, toes and then scales, which he scrapes off before seeing a mysterious mermaid figure as he exits the womb and into the waiting arms of his saintly mother, Sophie (Ariadna Gil). Like her doctors and her no-good husband, Richard (Don McKellar), Sophie immediately notices that the baby boy, Mica, radiates a distinctly marine-y aroma. In response, as both a kid and a teen (played by Douglas Smith), Mica spends copious time scrubbing himself with prescription soaps in the bathtub – the only place he feels any sense of comfort and relaxation, aside from the couch of therapist Catherine (Carrie-Anne Moss), with whom he shares his frustrations, fears and freaky nightmares about mass shootings. The only non-relative who doesn’t meanly judge him, Catherine soon becomes an object of lonely Mica’s romantic inclinations.

Cal y Mayor and Javier Gullon’s script, however, abruptly drops this subplot once Mica’s feelings redirect to Laura (Zoe Kravitz), a fellow swimmer at the local pool who tellingly wears a mermaid necklace and, years earlier, had failed to befriend Mica at his childhood birthday party. Unfortunately, Mica and Laura’s aquatic meet-cute is handled as clunkily as Sophie’s untimely traffic-accident death is dealt with flippantly, the result being that, despite its strained atmosphere of fairy-tale whimsy, “Treading Water” often comes off as less heartfelt than it’s striving to be.

More problematic still, Mica’s rare aromatic condition — which turns out to have a medical name, Trimethylaminuria, and can be mitigated through dietary restrictions — never shares any narrative or thematic correlation to Garibai. The singer’s hit single “Couple in a Bubble” would seem to hold at least some minor promise of linking the artist’s music and Mica’s water-centric issues. Yet Cal y Mayor instead treats the crooner as merely a cutesy embellishment to enhance her material’s idiosyncratic tone, making his role in these proceedings feel more mystifying than enchanting.

While Mica and Laura’s budding amour eventually tightens the script’s focus, the story never coheres into anything more than a groan-worthy hybrid of coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water (pun intended) tales, replete with fairy godfather Garibai performing a closing song-and-dance number. Nonetheless, Cal y Mayor’s direction is far more assured than her writing, her visuals marked by alternately symmetrical and off-kilter compositions that speak to Mica’s desire to transcend his weirdo-outsider status and fit in.

As Mica, the wide-eyed Smith expresses a convincing mixture of isolated teenage angst, sorrow and anger. Moreover, he exudes a gangly awkwardness that serves him well during the film’s few moments of genuine out-of-left-field comedy, the finest being a sequence in which Mica, spying on Laura through an outside window, is roundly chastised by a gardener for trampling (literally — and, one can also assume, aromatically) his flowers.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Treading Water'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., March 12, 2015. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (Canada-Mexico) An Orchard (in U.S.) release of an Alliance Films presentation, with the participation of Telefilm Canada, of a Rhombus Media/Redrum production. Produced by Niv Fichman, Stacy Perskie. Executive producers, Mark Slone, Victor Loewy, Jose Herrero de Egaña, Juan Romero. Co-producer, Sari Friedland.

Crew: Directed by Analeine Cal y Mayor. Screenplay, Cal y Mayor, Javier Gullon. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Gregory Middleton; editor, Oscar Figueroa; music, Benoit Charest, Yamil Rezc; production designer, Elisa Sauve; art directors, Nancey Pankiw (Canada), Carlos Lagunas (Mexico); set decorators, Margaret Lloyd (Canada), Daniela Rojas (Mexico); costume designer, Patrick Antosh; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Azotea Post and Beast Sound Design; supervising sound editor, Pablo Lach; re-recording mixers, Pablo Lach, Jaime Baksht; visual effects supervisor, Raül Luna; visual effects, Sofia; stunt coordinator, Robert Racki; choreographer, Donna Feore); line producer, Andrea Raffaghello; associate producer, Kevin Krikst, Fraser Ash, Chris Bell; assistant directors, Pazz Neglia (Canada), Javier Clave (Mexico); second unit directors, Ben Marrello (Canada), Miguel Necoechea (Mexico); second unit camera, Felipe Perez Burchard; casting, Dierdre Bowen.

With: Douglas Smith, Zoe Kravitz, Ariadna Gil, Don McKellar, Carrie-Anne Moss, Gonzalo Vega. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • The Jesus Rolls

    Rome Film Review: 'The Jesus Rolls'

    The Jesus lives! The oddball bowling obsessive immortalized by John Turturro in “The Big Lebowski” resurfaces two decades later in “The Jesus Rolls,” a road movie every bit as eccentric as the character he played in the 1998 cult favorite. In a way, the “Lebowski” connection does a disservice to Turturro’s film — an in-spirit [...]

  • Abominable

    Malaysia Orders Cuts to 'Abominable' Over Controversial Map Scene

    Malaysia has ordered cuts to the U.S.-Chinese animated feature “Abominable,” which includes a scene involving a map that portrays China’s contested territorial claims in the South China Sea. The map scene has already caused the film to be banned in Vietnam. The Philippines foreign minister Teodoro Locsin this week called for “Abominable” to be boycotted, [...]

  • Kung Fu Panda 3

    Universal's Beijing Resort to Partner With Alibaba on Digitization

    Amid fierce controversy about the leverage China has over U.S. entertainment firms with significant mainland operations, Universal Beijing Resort and Alibaba announced a strategic partnership Thursday to digitize the forthcoming theme park in China’s capital. Facial recognition and the use of big data will be the norm at the new resort, which will use an [...]

  • They Shall Not Grow Old restoration

    Peter Jackson Documentary 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Nabs Limited China Release

    The Peter Jackson produced and directed World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” will hit Chinese theaters on November 11. Though it will roll out nationwide, it will do so via the China’s National Arthouse Alliance, which has limited screens. The 2018 documentary puts together interviews with WWI veterans and more than 100-year-old [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    'Zombieland: Double Tap' Hopes to Recapture Raunchy Zombie Magic, 10 Years Later

    Audiences may have a few questions about the sequel to 2009’s hit “Zombieland,” which opens Friday. Why did it take 10 years to make a second one, after the first grossed $102.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget, making it the third-biggest zombie movie of all time (second-biggest if you don’t count “Hotel Transylvania,” [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Accused of Firing VP Who Complained of Gender Pay Gap

    A former vice president at AMC Theatres filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing the company of firing her after she complained that she was paid far less than her male peers. Tonya Mangels, who was vice president of product marketing, said that in March 2018 her supervisor inadvertently sent her a spreadsheet that included [...]

  • Sir Elton John poses for photographers

    Elton John Calls 'Lion King' Remake a 'Huge Disappointment'

    Elton John isn’t feeling the love for Disney’s latest live-action remake. In an interview with GQ U.K., the legendary musician criticized Disney’s remake of “The Lion King,” citing the film’s music as a “huge disappointment.” “The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content