Road trip movies are all about progress. As the characters weave their way to their destination, they change and grow, ultimately finding an inner resolution that makes everything worth it. Indeed, the genre is riddled with clichés, but that’s no reason to dismiss it. A recent reminder of the never-ending power of the road trip movie is Sean McEwen’s debut feature “Braking for Whales”.
The script, written by McEwen and his wife/star Tammin Sursok, introduces us to Brandon (Tom Felton) and Star (Sursok), estranged siblings reuniting to settle their recently deceased mothers’ affairs. In many ways the two are polar opposites, and it doesn’t take long for them to be at each other’s throats. Just after they implode, they are informed, in a case of severely rotten luck, that to claim their inheritance they need to take mum’s ashes to her desired resting place, the stomach of one of her beloved whales. Needing the money, the duo set out from Iowa to a Texas aquarium home to an Orca whale.
Of course, this is a somewhat silly plot; obviously it’s not okay to feed remains to a whale, but, as anybody who has ever seen a road trip movie knows, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And that is a sentiment which Braking for Whales embraces wholeheartedly to heart-warming effects.
That is, For the most part, however, the film has the unfortunate knack of overcomplicating itself with the absurd. There are otters, a strange infatuation with a former US president, and the incessant need for the pair to continually refer to each other by their first names mid-conversation with one another. It’s all a bit much and will undoubtedly deter some viewers. In saying this, those who can look past this will find a tale of two suffering people who desperately need help from one another and witness them slowly come to find it.
And it is precisely the two stars responsible for being those two damaged people that ensure this film’s success. They make for an endearing pair who perfectly encapsulate the way family baggage can drag you down. Felton produces a wonderfully deep portrayal of severe repression, and opposite him, Sursok develops Star’s tragic guise of apathy in the wake of a divorce perfectly. They are both terrific performances, and they make the film.
Behind the camera, this film finds two significant strengths, score and cinematography. The music in the film is beautiful. Jason Soudah composes the heart and soul of Braking for Whales with his work here. The subtle guitar is haunting as it echoes both the tragedies of Brandon and Star’s past as well as the difficulties of their present, it’s brilliant work. Cinematographer, Justin Henning also stands out thanks to the wonderful way he captures America and the pair within it. There’s just the right amount of sentimentality that it doesn’t get cheesy and remains stunning. Credit must also go to McEwen himself who guides the film admirably and pulls all the strings together nicely.
Braking for Whales has the potential to speak to many people. Yes, there are flaws, but by the end, there’s a certain enlightenment, and that’s more than enough to make this film a good one.
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