False Complications: Our Review of ‘Braking for Whales’

Posted in Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - April 28, 2020
False Complications: Our Review of ‘Braking for Whales’

An offbeat road trip among siblings with questionable attitudes and habits turns into a reckoning for the two of them in occasionally funny and sweet, Braking for Whales.

Brother and sister Brandon and Star Walker (Tom Felton and Tammin Sursok, who also wrote the film with director Sean McEwen) take a road trip at the direction of their recently deceased mothers. For reasons unknown, though it has something to do with a religious background, the Walker matriarch is intent on her somewhat distant and definitely messed up middle-aged kids to get into a camper and hit the drove. Their destination – without 48 hours of hearing the request – is a whale, where they will disperse their mother’s ashes. Of course the insensitive is capital; no inheritance will be passed along unless they can complete this arcane task.

The conceit is odd, and not sold entirely, but it works well enough to set up potentially enlightening conversations and awkward situations. Star’s baggage is that she is struggling for custody of her child with her ex-husband. She has colored streaks in her hair and wears ripped clothes, which seems to suggest that she is in some state of arrested development. Brandon, meanwhile, as a result of the religious influence on his life, is trying to absolve himself of homosexual thoughts and tendencies through prayer – he’s told, after, all, it’s only a phase.

Just as a destination is artificially set for these two wayward relatives, so too seems their personal journey. Their conversations don’t feel natural, but instead necessary to understand their conflicts, which aren’t that complicated to understand to begin with. There is nothing free or unrestrained in their story or their own paths – it all feels forced. Even a stop at a distant relative’s house serves up predictable awkward encounters with a side of the family that no one has stayed in touch with.

There are indeed some moments of humor and levity; occasionally the conversations ventures into some lighthearted banter about growing up. But too often these characters feel like they’re only created to make a very generic point. Star grapples with being a mother and Brandon grapples with being gay. Those very real, intense, common struggles are treated with a light brush and stilted dialogue. An encounter between Brandon and a gay man at a bar is uninspired.

A running joke about Star being in love with George W. Bush is also peculiar and doesn’t quite work as well as it should. That the film opens with her pleasuring herself in an airplane bathroom to a book by the former President sets a strange tone.

Spending a lot of time with two characters that are more simple ideas than fleshed-out people makes for tiresome ride in Braking for Whales, where an oddball premise fails to keep up needed absurdity or emotionally resonance.

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