When you're fiftyish and have just lost your job, what do you do next?
If you're Frank in "On A Clear Day," then you swim the English Channel, and confront some nasty personal demons. This wee, warm Scottish flick does a great job balancing out comedy and melancholy, with a bit of family strife thrown in. It's just a small-scale, sweet little film.
A Scottish shipyard is laying off workers, and Frank (Peter Mullan) suddenly finds himself without a job. His wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn) starts training to be a bus driver, and his relationship with his son Rob (Jamie Sives) remains chilly, as it has been ever since his other son's death. Frank becomes increasingly depressed and antsy, unsure what to do next.
But while on a "booze cruise" with his friends, inspiration strikes -- he'll swim the Channel. He keeps his plans a secret from his family, but allows Chinese-Scot Chan (Benedict Wong) to be his trainer, with his pals as moral support. But his secret alienates his wife and son even further, and as he faces the biggest swim of his life, Frank will have to overcome his worst, most haunting memories of the sea.
"One Clear Day" is basically a heartwarming little family dramedy, which avoids the usual cliches and schmaltz, even in scenes where it could have easily become goopy. It takes a pretty talented director to handle things like government layoffs and racism without being heavy-handed, or dealing with emotional trauma without being soppy about it.
The plot seems even more colourful against the grey skies and seas of Scotland -- there are sad flashbacks and some melancholy moments, but Dellal balances it out with kooky good-ol'-lads comedy, such as Danny joyously careening around on a tiny motoboat. And the dialogue is nothing short of hilarious, whether it's bawdy jokes or banter ("Shark. Thirty-five footer." "Fell off my bike. Two-wheeler!").
Mullan has a very challenging role -- his character has repressed his grief, and doesn't want to let anyone see his problems. So Frank is gruff, secretive, but has moments of unbridled delight. Blethyn and Sives round out the family beautifully, as Frank's loving wife and emotionally starved son -- the beach scene with the three of them is enchanting.
But the supporting cast is also great -- Jodhi May has a small, good role as Rob's wife, and Ron Cook and Sean McGinley are snappily solid as two of Frank's pals. And Billy Boyd simply steals every scene he's in, as the perpetually upbeat, charmingly troublesome Danny. But comedy isn't his only skill: his best scene would have to be when Danny sadly confesses that he's always wanted to be like Frank.
"On A Clear Day" is a sweet, small Scottish movie with plenty of heart and joking-around, and the ability to warm your heart without turning your stomach. Definitely worth swimming to.