Chicago Critics Film Festival: On Chesil Beach
By Andrea Thompson
“On Chesil Beach” can't even be called nihilistic, because even nihilism requires commitment. Much like its two leads (Saorise Ronan and newcomer Billy Howle), the film just can't seem to follow through after its most pivotal event, and not even its incredible performances can salvage it. Ronan and Howle play 1962 British newlyweds Florence and Edward, who have just embarked on their honeymoon. Both of them are struggling to cope with the awkwardness and pressures of their wedding night, which is starkly contrasted with flashbacks to their loving, idyllic courtship. They're clearly a good match despite the differences in their personalities and backgrounds, but their issues with the sexual aspect of their relationship, and especially Florence's fear of it, threatens to undo them. Indeed, the first half of “On Chesil Beach” is so passionately conveyed that the lack of focus in the aftermath is downright baffling. Rather than getting us invested, the movie seems more interested in conveying Edward's emotional fallout without any kind of insight, as if, like the most bitter party in a divorce, it's trying to punish rather than understand, or even tell a story. The end result is a meaningless muddle of sadness without any context to really have an impact; Nicholas Sparks when it's clearly trying to be akin to “Blue Valentine.” If neither the movie or its characters really invest in the central relationship, why should we?