Rebel Wilson and Charlotte Gainsbourg play two women living with partners who have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in The Almond and the Seahorse, a complicated drama about both those suffering from TBI and their carers.
Sarah (Wilson) is struggling to manage living with her husband, Joe (co-writer and co-director Celyn Jones), who suffers from repeated memory loss after a tumour was removed from his brain. Joe has a lack of impulse control, flicking from enthusiastic to cold and angry in an instant. Meanwhile Toni (Gainsbourg) lives with her long-term partner Gwen (Trine Dyrholm), a former musician who also has memory lapses due to a car accident. For both Sarah and Toni, looking after their partners is taking its toll. When Dr Farmer (Meera Syal) calls them both back to hospital to monitor Joe and Gwen for a few days, they both start to face the hard truths of their lives.
Adapted from the play by Kaite O’Reilly, named after the amygdala and hippocampus, The Almond and the Seahorse can’t escape its theatre roots. Dialogue that would flow on stage comes off as didactic and stilted on screen. Scenes are too pointed, motivations too obvious, and the whole endeavor is uncinematic with Syal’s Dr Farmer providing exposition and convenient plot progression. Co-directors Jones and Tom Stern lack the finesse of Florian Zeller—whose film The Father treds some similar discombobulated mental health territory—leaving us with an old-school TV movie aesthetic.
Rebel Wilson acquits herself well in a purely dramatic role, but the screenplay lets her and Gainsbourg down, while Dyrholm and Jones are both excellent in their roles. As the film progresses at an uneven pace some truly bewildering jumps occur, and it doesn’t seem to know when to end, while the actors are forced to behave less and less like actual humans and more like emotional cyphers.
The Almond and the Seahorse is a missed opportunity. There’s a good story here, and some fine performances that could have generated a much better film. Desperately uneven, it needed more time to flesh out the relationships—especially the queer relationship that starts in the final reel—to make them believable, and a tighter focus on whose story it was telling.
By Chad Armstrong
The Almond and the Seahorse receives its Australian Premiere as part of the Cunard British Film Festival and is in US theaters and on demand from December 16th, 2022.