A Year in Mooring: Film Review

Underwritten tale of grief and recovery uses boat refinishing as a stand-in for therapy.

An unconvincing tale of spiritual recovery set on the fringe of Lake Michigan, the film suffers from a certain coyness by never fulling explaining the reason for all the sorrowful naval-gazing.

AUSTIN — A somber navel-gazer that might as easily have been called A Year in Mourning, A Year in Mooring offers an unconvincing tale of spiritual recovery set on the fringe of Lake Michigan. Theatrical possibilities are quite slim, though a familiar cast may help move a few DVDs, especially for fans of star Josh Lucas.

Lucas enters the picture amid heavy-handed indications of grief. Though Peter Vanderwall's annoyingly coy screenplay refuses to tell us what has happened, director Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) makes sure we know it has scarred him: The guy shows up to buy a sailboat in a funeral-worthy dark suit, and as he stalks down the dock toward it, his rolling suitcase generates a rumble ominous enough to frighten small children.

Lucas knows he's getting a wreck of a ship, but as he opens the hatch and surveys the trash within, his eyes register a level of dismay more appropriate for the discovery of piled-up corpses.

If his boat's name, "Hesperus," doesn't strike viewers as sufficiently pretentious, the script also gives characters names like "The Young Mariner," and "The Divorced Man," as if crafting a modern myth.

Here and in scenes to come, the actor's level of bombed-out grief — enhanced by many scenes of boozy stupor and staring across the waves — suggests overcompensation for holes Vanderwall has left deliberately in the screenplay. Eyre does the same, with quickly edited dream montages that clumsily hint at the event Lucas is hiding from.

Over the course of four seasons, Lucas patches and scrapes in an attempt to make his metaphor-ready ship seaworthy again. Aside from a stillborn subplot involving a grocery-store cashier, the tale focuses on Lucas's interaction with a long-suffering waitress (Ayelet Zurer) and a crusty bagpiper (James Cromwell), strangers who exist solely to guide Lucas gently toward healing.

Obviously an exercise in therapeutic drama for Vanderwall, A Year in Mooring expects viewers to come along for the weepy ride but gives us no reason to care about its hero's pain or to cheer his inarticulate path out of it.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival, Narrative Feature Competition section
Production Company: MMC Joule Films
Cast: Josh Lucas, David Herbst, Anne Faba, Taylor Groothuis, Austin Bickel, Ayelet Zurer, Jon Tenney, James Cromwell, Taylor Nichols, Casey LaBow, Lindsey Muscroft, Ele Bardaha
Director: Chris Eyre
Screenwriter: Peter Vanderwall
Producer: Sally Effenson
Director of photography: Elliot Davis
Production designer: Sharon Lomofsky
Music: Tony Morales, Edward Rogers
Costume designer: Susanna Puisto
Editor: Devin Maurer
Sales: Ben Weiss, Paradigm
PG-13, 89 minutes