Well-intentioned but emotionally bereft, The Almond and the Seahorse is Rebel Wilson’s latest attempt to find a breakout success through dramatic fare rather than comedic. I honestly found the premise intriguing and promising. Based on a play by Katie O’Reilly, the delicate balancing act required by the dramedy genre does becomes too much for this film to handle. What works on the stage does not always translate well to the big screen. While Wilson does her thing and Lars von Trier favorite Charlotte Gainsbourg wows as per usual, The Almond and the Seahorse constantly misses the mark.
For this film, we follow two concurrent storylines dealing with similar subject matter before they eventually cross paths. Sarah (Wilson, Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic?) is trying her best to deal with her husband, Joe (Celyn Jones), and the aftermath of his TBI, or traumatic brain injury. Similarly, architect Toni (Gainsborough, Antichrist, Nymphomaniac) is deep in a fifteen-year trap with her lesbian partner, Gwen (Trine Dyrholm), who also suffered a TBI from a car accident. Living with someone who forgets basic things on a daily basis is certainly no easy feat—in the most fascinating segments, The Almond and the Seahorse explores the complicated nature of trying to keep love alive for a significant other whose mind is often missing crucial chunks of information.
Just how complicated are the relationships? Well, Joe has a habit of grinning and saying hi to complete strangers, and is privy to mental breakdowns caused by telemarketers. He forgets long stretches of time, and appears to be regressing neurologically, erasing pieces of his past one by one. Could there be a day in the near future where he does not even remember Sarah? On the opposite end of the spectrum, Toni struggles with Gwen as she is prone to disappearing. Toni seems at the end of her rope, desperate for the struggle to be over. Dr. Falmer (Meera Syal), a woman who specializes in rehabilitation for TBIs, may be able to help. Can either couple eventually find a route forward to rekindle their dying romances?
On paper, the setup of The Almond and the Seahorse is impossible to resist. The title is in regards to the shape of parts of the brain that lay down new memories and hold onto the older ones, and Sarah’s comparison to Joe about rewiring his brain feels equally relatable and tragic. However, the dialogue is too stilted, the atmosphere flat, and the depth of story diluted. Characters go through the motions and drama occurs, but nothing feels purposeful, or as if popping off the screen with energy. I kept waiting for big dramatic releases of tension, or harrowing crescendos of emotionality, yet they are absent. A cast of characters this good deserves better material to actually explore them beyond the initial setup. Otherwise, a drama such as this will fade quickly from memory.
Don’t forget about The Almond and the Seahorse when it premieres in select theatres and Video On Demand on Friday, December 16th.