The Almond and the Seahorse

Posted by Eddie Pasa on May 9, 2024 in / No Comments


Rated R by the MPA (contains strong language.) Running time: 96 minutes. Released by Piknic Entertainment.

In UK cinemas starting Friday, May 10. (Currently available on VOD in the US.)

This review is going to be a little different, so please, bear with me.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Piknic Entertainment, The Almond and the SeahorseBeing the caregiver of a loved one often comes with vast amounts of love, tension, blind hope, and dejection which often gives way to defeatism. We hope they’ll eventually get better or at least find their way back to some semblance of normal; while the triumphs provide the best of highs, the setbacks, obstacles, and downward progressions often take us to our lowest. This is where we find Sarah (Rebel Wilson) and Toni (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in Celyn Jones and Tom Stern’s adaptation of the stageplay The Almond and the Seahorse, co-scripted by Jones and original playwright Kaite O’Reilly.

Based on O’Reilly’s personal experiences with disability, The Almond and the Seahorse asks us to examine our own societal attitudes toward the disabled and approaches the subject matter from the inside out. Here, Sarah and Toni are caring for their respective partners, Joe (Jones on triple duty) and Gwen (Trine Dyrholm), both of whom have anterograde amnesia due to traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Both remember who they and their partners were prior to their TBIs, but Gwen’s memory is only capable of lasting a full waking day while Joe has about a fifteen- or twenty-second window before he resets. Both don’t know why they and their partners have aged – in their minds, Gwen’s accident and Joe’s tumor surgery just happened hours ago. And when they see their partners, they don’t know how the years have transformed them into the strangers they see before them.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Piknic Entertainment, The Almond and the SeahorseJones and Stern look at the heartbreak on both sides of the fence. Daily, Gwen wakes up and has to learn that the baby she was carrying was killed in the accident that took her memory; depending on her mood, she either needs Toni or pushes her away. In an emotionally charged performance, Charlotte Gainsbourg runs us through Toni’s gauntlet of frustration, rejection, and loneliness as she can do nothing but allow Gwen to slip away physically, mentally, and as the woman she loves. Not knowing which Gwen will see her in the morning is agonizing to her, and Gainsbourg’s face and frame have a hard-hitting way of establishing exactly how this relationship and the inability to give up has affected her.

With Sarah, it’s a different story, as Joe mostly remains blithe and lighthearted… until he’s not. Joe swings wildly from childlike delight to blithe and happy to dark and rage-filled, and he also complains that the Sarah that’s with him isn’t “the real Sarah.” He wants the old Sarah back just as much as Sarah wants the old Joe back; she organizes things for him, sets him timers, records messages telling him what happened and how he needs to get through it, and even calls him to make sure he’s taken his medicine. But it’s just one dropped ball after another with him, and no matter how hard Sarah believes and takes action, Joe just isn’t getting better.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Piknic Entertainment, The Almond and the SeahorseThe anguish that comes as a result of both Sarah and Toni checking their partners into a live-in memory care center is raw and distressing. It’s failure to them, giving up after all this work they’ve done. When Sarah and Toni meet, a stark realization is shared between them: They’re both grieving for a person who no longer exists yet lives with them. This is the crux of The Almond and the Seahorse, the discovery of the real meaning behind their actions. The anger and pain felt on both sides is balanced with genuine love and the sense that each person is trying to be the best version of themselves they can be. The pain is the anger and helplessness at being prohibited from doing so by their TBIs or their care going without reward or even a small win.

If this review sounds like a summary and vague interpretations, you’re right. I don’t know how to feel about this film, much less how to interpret the art within. As my disabled daughter’s caregiver and the son of someone facing something similar, I found so much to identify with in Sarah and Toni’s struggles, which is where the majority of the film lies. We do spend time separately with Joe and Gwen as they navigate their spheres of short-lived consciousness, and we are able to hold them in our hearts as human beings, not just the sum of their injuries. But a romance established in an in medias res, post-title prologue throws everything into a weird light; I’m not sure where in the exact timeline of Sarah and Toni’s friendship it comes, and Sarah says something about “sleeping with strangers” when we’re not shown any of that…

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Piknic Entertainment, The Almond and the SeahorseThis prologue shakes us up and puts us in Gwen and Joe’s shoes as being dropped into something without knowing what’s going on, which is admirable, but it sets us on a little bit of an edge and sets an expectation for more than what the film winds up showing us. When the “Six Weeks Ago” supertitle appears just after, we get to know each family, how long they’ve been dealing with these TBIs, and their routines of regret and remorse. The film leaves us on an ending that wants to assuage the misgiving that all this film contains is continual loss. At least it’s an ending that makes sense… yet, it feels a little bit unearned. The film puts us through the wringer and drops truth bombs on us, but then shows the final product without the work; it’s like showing someone applying for a job as a pizza chef with no prior experience and meeting their new boss who takes them into the kitchen, but then abruptly cuts to this new chef throwing pies like a seasoned pro just before cutting to black.

Looking at that last paragraph, the bookends seem to fit the motif of not knowing everything about how we get from point A to points B, C, and beyond; all we know is that it just is. In that, The Almond and the Seahorse works a subtle magic on us without feeling the need for “more.” The film does what it wants to without fanfare or huge dramatics; it takes us past the disability to the human within. Every lead character is damaged in their own way, and what Jones and Stern present us with is a streamlined look at their daily battles. It’s a war that doesn’t give ground; it only takes, and the lessons learned are the small victories that make it possible to keep going.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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