Adele (Vanessa Ray) and Sara (Megan Guinan) are best friends, prepared to move off to New York City together. That is, until trouble at home causes Sara to change her mind, and Adele sets off to NYC alone. As Adele navigates a city’s reality far from her dreams, Sara works at a nursing home, where she befriends Sylvia (Lynn Cohen), a woman youthful beyond her years (and fond of her weed). Adele and Sara keep in touch, filling each other in on their lives as they head in different directions.
Devyn Waitt’s feature film, Not Waving But Drowning, is a film about transitions, whether it be in friendships, relationships, ideals or even locations. The two young women at the core of the main narrative are coming of age in different ways; parallel paths, but separate, and not just due to the physical distance between them.
For Adele, it’s about the transformation of a dream from the idyllic to the realistic. Moving to the big city has long been a plot device ever since big cities existed, so there’s something universally brutal about the way New York City charms while it delivers its gut-wrenching reality check. That said, how many cities can knock someone down and out, and still inspire the loyalty that NYC does?
At the same time, Sara is left behind but still going through her own period of growth. Finding a friend that could easily be the elderly Adele, Sara is finding comfort in the familiar while, at the same time, trying to reconcile certain aspects of life, such as mortality. Young and invincible works in theory, until death finally introduces itself to you in some form or another. And to a certain extent it’s the fear of death, though maybe not Sara’s fear, that was behind Sara’s decision to stay home.
So while the narrative themes are not anything new, the storyline itself is not necessarily traditional either. This isn’t about “this happened and then this happened and then this” so much as it is about presenting two lifelines that diverge, and waiting to see if they cross again and, if they do, what that will be like. It both is and isn’t straightforward, but extremely easy to connect to regardless.
Of course, the general mood of innocence, transition and growth is set up wonderfully by the whimsical short film that opens the piece. Having The Most Girl Part of You, starring Lili Reinhart and Ryan Munzert, start things off, even if those characters have no bearing on the rest of the film, is almost like a Cliff’s Notes of the themes to come. It also makes you feel like you’re at a film festival screening, where the programmers managed to pair the perfect short for the feature.
Overall, I enjoyed Not Waving But Drowning. It not only connects on numerous universal emotional levels, it also remains contemporary, which isn’t always an easy thing to do. It also tosses in some pretty memorable imagery; how did they get that horse on the subway car?
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