[box cover]

The Waterdance

Ahh, 1991. George Bush Sr. was president, hardly anyone had a cell (er, car) phone, and Helen Hunt actually looked and acted like a real person, instead of a skeletal, orange-tinted Oscar-Winning Actress. It's refreshing to watch Hunt in The Waterdance, a well-acted, deliberately paced drama about the sometimes stark realities of paralysis. As Anna, the married girlfriend of main character Joel Garcia (Eric Stoltz), a writer who wakes up after a hiking accident to find himself wheelchair-bound for life, Hunt is emotional without being melodramatic; her reactions and frustrations in this film are as honest and real as her performance in Pay It Forward was manipulative and artificial. (Oh, and she does a nude scene...) Stoltz is also impressive as Joel (who is based on the film's co-director, Neal Jimenez), flashing from self pity to resentment to anger to grim acceptance as his character tests — and eventually comes to terms with — the limits of his new life. Only one complaint: Joel's big breakdown scene, which comes more or less without warning, feels more like a forced Actor's Moment than the natural reaction of the character Stoltz has spent the rest of the movie establishing. The supporting cast, which includes Wesley Snipes as the blustering, insecure Raymond Hill — Joel's fellow patient in a long-term recovery hospital — is strong, too; the quiet moments between Snipes and William Forsythe's brash, racist biker Bloss are as affecting as many of the scenes between Joel and Anna. In fact, it's Raymond who inspires the film's name; he tells Bloss that he dreams about being able to stand on the surface of a lake — but only if he keeps dancing will he stay above the water. The metaphor is apt for the lives of the film's characters: If you stop moving, stop trying to find your way, you risk being engulfed by the darkness. Ultimately, The Waterdance, while occasionally a little too languid and meandering, is a powerful, realistic look at emotional and physical rehabilitation. The film plays well on the small screen, so it's a natural for DVD; the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) on Columbia TriStar's disc is strong, and the English 2.0 audio is fine for a quiet drama like this one (an array of subtitles is also on board). Trailers for The Waterdance and Birdy, cast filmographies. Keep-case.
— Betsy Bozdech

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