BRAKING FOR WHALES (2020)


 Greetings again from the darkness. Their mother amassed quite the collection of whale-related items from eBay prior to her recent passing. The brother needs the inheritance to continue his self-discovery course, which may or may not answer the question of whether or not he is gay. The estranged sister apparently abandoned her young daughter for fear of being a lousy mother. He admits to being ‘lost’, and she admits to being ‘broken’. Self-loathing is on full display in director Sean McEwen’s first feature film.

Tom Felton (Draco from the Harry Potter movies) plays Brandon Walker, and Tammin Sursok (“Pretty Little Liars”) plays his older sister Star Walker. They reunite for the reading of mom’s will, which includes the outlandish requirement for Brandon and Star to dispose of mom’s ashes in the belly of whale in order to receive their inheritance. Needing the money, they hop in mom’s old Winnebago for a 48 hour road trip to a public aquarium that houses the closest whale to Iowa.

The emotional impact of a story about a brother and sister finding common ground on a forced road trip boils down to two things: the chemistry between the two actors and the script. Mr. Felton and Ms. Sursok seem to be committed to the cause, and there are a couple of moments that strike the right chord, but overall the script is what prevents us from connecting to either the characters or the story. The attempts to inject humor tend to be in poor taste, while the dramatic elements either repeat themselves or don’t work because we simply don’t care enough about Brandon or Star.

Having the running gag of Brandon proclaiming “I’m not gay” while Star relentlessly peppers him on the topic comes across as not just dated, but also quite sad – seeing as Brandon is a thirty-something year old man. And worse than that is the stop over at Aunt Jackie’s (Wendi McLendon-Covey, BRIDESMAIDS, “The Goldbergs”) and Uncle Randal’s (David Koechner) house. This sequence of social commentary meant to bash extreme right-wing conservatives is simply embarrassing to watch. I actually felt terrible for the actors in these scenes. Comedy around homosexuality and racism must be handled with grace … whether it’s subtle or cartoonish.

The script was co-written by director Sean McEwen and his leading lady (and real life wife) Tammin Sursok. Respect is due to independent filmmakers who find a way to realize their project, but we do wish more time had been spent on the script. In fact, the whole production felt rushed and unpolished, leaving us with the most dreaded question any movie watcher might ask … how much longer?

watch the trailer:

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