With the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future last month unleashing many the nostalgic movie marathons across the world, Christopher Lloyd has made a welcome return to the public eye.
Though he also celebrated his 77th birthday recently he continues to work on new projects, most recently Arnold Grossman’s directing debut The Boat Builder, also featuring Malcom in the Middle’s Jane Kaczmarek and child actor Tekola Cornetet. At 80 years of age, Grossman has had a long and varied career as a writer and producer but this is his first time in the director’s chair, filming on location at the Californian coast and using a number first time local actors. As also the writer of the screenplay, The Boat Builder seems very much a labour of love for Grossman, which he describes as a film about “building a dream”. There are some moving elements and good humour to the story whilst Lloyd stands out as a reclusive sea captain seeking freedom and Cornetet puts on a strong debut performance as the lonely orphan who helps him in his mission. That said the film is let down at times by a patchy screenplay and a sometimes overdramatic use of sound in an otherwise worthy family production.
Lloyd plays Abner, a retired marine captain quietly grieving from the loss of his wife by escaping into the construction of a large wooden boat that he stations at the front of his house on the coast of San Francisco. Mostly left alone by the sympathetic locals his only visitor is his daughter, keen to “do what’s best” for Abner and remove him from his coastal retreat to a home, and a gang of nuisance youths determined to destroy his boat. Equally terrorised by the gang is young orphan Rick, living in the area with his uncle’s family who fail to hide how burdened they feel by his company. Both alienated and misunderstood by those around them, the pair come to rely on each other after Abner protects Rick from the gang at the beach near his house. Grateful and seeking his own escape, Rick begins to assist Abner with the construction of his boat. A friendship begins to develop but only as they continue to find themselves up against the scorn of their families and bullies that test their bond.
Not unlike Up or even When the Whales Came, there’s an interesting concept here of an unlikely friendship and there is a believable, light-hearted dynamic between the two leads; both elderly Grinch-like Abner and young Rick, withdrawn form the world learn from each other and start to trust again in authentic and comical ways. However outside of their relationship the film sometimes feels uneven, with what should have been crucial, moving plot points rushed into the story, at times with not enough plausibility. Whilst Cornetet is very good, some of the other supporting actors have perhaps less flair and the performances and clunky dialogue distract from the potential emotional clout that at times could have been present.
There is some nice music used in the film, with composer Andy Palmer performing the main theme “Sailing Now”. However occasionally the instrumental music is perhaps a little too dramatic and intrusive, were perhaps a bit more subtly or even silence would have been more effective. That said there is a real dream-like essence to the film, the coastal setting is utilised well and Lloyd is excellent playing just on the right side of eccentric and delivers a moving performance of a man simply trying to live the rest of his life the way he wants to. Touching on issues of abandonment and family breakdown it’s a pity that film wasn’t a little longer to develop the leads’ backgrounds a little more that would have helped the flow of the story. Yet the story wraps up satisfyingly enough concluding Grossman’s dream successfully.
This is a small indie project that is not without its flaws but it is by no means worth ignoring. It is clear that it has been made with real affection and passion which certainly makes it an enjoyable watch. A great film for young families and one that I am sure will appeal to many looking for a feel good film to watch together.