“Radio Cape Cod” opens on tranquil images of the Cape at and around sunset. The soundtrack plays smooth jazz sounds and Jill’s (Tamzin Outhwaite) voiceover discusses the merits of locally-grown food as the images of the fading day glide into each other. It’s moody and soothing, but then again, so is Starbucks, and God knows there’s little enlightenment to be found there. Luckily, Andrew Silver’s film is just getting started. In the end, Silver crafts a modest, worthwhile film that announces the arrival of some promising talent. I climbed into “Radio Cape Cod” like it was a warm bath and climbed out clean and refreshed.
After the opening montage, we meet oceanographer Sunday (Olatunde Fagbenle), who is spending a few days researching at the Cape with his soon-to-be-married friend Jake (Justin Adams). With all of his colleagues busy at the lab, Sunday reluctantly agrees to an interview with radio show host Jill. The pair bond over their interest in deep-sea trenches, and soon they’re eating clam chowder together and wrestling playfully in the sand. Meanwhile, Jill’s daughter Anna (Tamzin Merchant) meets the commitment-wary Virgil (Julian Silver) in an acting class and tries to figure just what his intentions are. Jill, whose husband has recently died, is ready to move on but isn’t sure about Anna, who is concerned about her mother’s sudden snuggliness with the out-of-towner.
You’re probably working out the old schema in your head: he’s a workaholic who needs to come out of his shell, and she needs someone else in her life to jumpstart the healing process. Silver thankfully doesn’t let the formula wear the material down.
The actors, especially the exuberant Outhwaite, are uniformly subtle and appealing, and screenwriter Marta Rainer’s dialogue deftly dodges clichés while allowing the emotions at the core of the story to shine through. Another major plus is Michael Spindler’s sumptuous photography. The quiet streets and windy beaches create a gentle background for Silver’s cast. If this movie were in wide release, I have no doubt that it would attract as many tourists to New England beaches as “Jaws” scared away. One shot near the end of the film presenting a golden field of wheat blowing in the wind would make Terrence Malick jealous.
As perfect as the scenery is, however, a few crucial elements do not entirely add up. The focus of the story is Jill and Sunday, but some of the other relationships only receive the minimum amount of attention. Oceanographer Alice (Debra Wise) and “slow food” purveyor Clay (Andrew Silver) only have a few scenes together, and Jake is never enough of a central character for us to care about his wedding. In addition, the ultra-mellow atmosphere occasionally crosses the line from pleasant to bland.
The film’s greatest accomplishment is sidestepping the “relationship-argument-reconciliation-status quo” formula that plagues so many films of its kind. I had little doubt at the end that Sunday and Jill were committed but still struggling to balance their responsibilities with their personal lives. For that nugget of satisfying ambiguity, I’ll gladly spend seventy minutes on “Radio Cape Cod.”