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D: Josh Helman / 90m

Cast: Celeste Arias, Jennifer Allcott, Grayson DeJesus, Josh Helman, Zosia Mamet, Evan Jonigkeit

Kate (Arias) and Em (Allcott) have been best friends for years. Recently, Em has been in Paris following the break up of her latest relationship. When she returns, she has a surprise: having been in exclusively lesbian relationships before now, now she’s met and is seeing a man, Aussie photographer Nick (Helman). Kate is surprised and pleased at the news, and accepts an invitation for herself and her partner, Pete (DeJesus), to spend the weekend at Nick’s lakeside cabin. Kate and Pete take to Nick straight away, and he’s a gracious host, even if the cabin is full of framed photographs of the models Nick has slept with. As the weekend progresses, tension begins to develop between Kate and Nick following a prank where he threw her into the lake. Matters worsen during a game of Sardines when Kate does something to threaten the stability of both relationships, as well as her friendship with Em. It coincides with Pete learning he’s landed a new job that means moving to Seattle (he and Kate live in New York), and it all puts Kate in the position of having to decide what she wants moving forward…

An indie movie co-written by Helman and Allcott, Kate Can’t Swim takes two couples, puts them in a remote, semi-isolated cabin in the woods, and proceeds to challenge each individual’s middle class, aspirational values, and the security of their partnerships. Kate is a writer struggling with her first novel, Em is an artist whose work appears to be recognised but we’re never sure who by, Nick is a well-regarded photographer looking to move from nudes to portraiture, and Pete is on the cusp of getting the job he’s worked so hard for over the last five years. They are all fun-loving, serious when necessary individuals, apparently secure in their own emotions and beliefs, but beneath the surface there are tensions and insecurities that beset all of them (though to different extremes). Helman and Allport aren’t in any rush to exploit these tensions and insecurities, which means that the movie takes a while to get going, content to introduce each character slowly and deliberately, and to provide a few obvious clues as to where it’s all heading. It’s lively in places, thoughtful in others, and engaging enough to keep the viewer interested in what’s going to happen.

However, what happens leads to a final twenty minutes that feels unbalanced against the rest of the movie. Even though things become necessarily more serious, there’s also a large dollop of melodrama introduced to the mix that feels clunky and contrived, as if Helman and Allcott didn’t know how to address fully the issues raised by Kate’s actions and the emotions we learn she’s been repressing. These developments may alienate some viewers, while others may find themselves happier to go with the flow, but either way, the fact there’s a choice to be made is still concerning. Helman’s direction is at least consistent, opting for static shots as a way of highlighting the isolation each character is feeling at various times, and he coaxes good performances from his co-stars, particularly Arias, whose portrayal of Kate is sympathetic, though not entirely so. The inter-relationships are effectively portrayed, and there’s some knowing humour to help leaven the growing drama, all of which makes the movie a mostly enjoyable experience, even if the structure is a little predictable. It’s not an indie movie that stands out from the crowd per se, but it is one that offers a number of small pleasures along the way.

Rating: 7/10 – easy-going and happily laid back for most of its running time, Kate Can’t Swim doesn’t always offer a fresh take on its choice of storyline, but it does enough to hold the viewer’s interest throughout; solidly assembled and amenable in its approach, on this evidence any further movies from Helman and Allcott will be ones to look forward to.

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