Treading Water Movie Review: Magical Realism Keeps Kooky Tale Afloat

Sensibly switching up the title of this tenderly wrought tall tale from the original ‘The Boy Who Smells Like Fish,’ Analeine Cal y Mayor’s Treading Water, though hardly more descriptively compelling or revealing, does at least spark rather than repel a sense of curiosity. In a rather eccentrically conceptualized fantasy romp through one oddly afflicted boy’s exceedingly unconventional coming of age ordeal.

The disorder which dooms the unfortunate protagonist Mica (Douglas Smith) apparently exists. Trimethylaminuria is a rare, incurable metabolic condition caused by the absence of specific enzyme production in the body. And resulting in what has been termed fish malodor syndrome, leading to the buildup of that unfortunate scent through sweat, urine and breath.

Which essentially leads to a life of ridicule and rejection for Mica, who withdraws from the world though armed with air freshener on a string when human mingling is unavoidable. Passing away his sullen and solitary youth within the bizarre suburban walls of a music museum where his nonjudgmental mother (Ariadna Gil) works as a tour guide, Mica is reluctantly assigned a therapist (Carrie-Anne Moss) who provides little consolation through no fault of her own. As matters are made even worse when Mica is left a virtual orphan visited by an punitive museum official, along with a perished in-house musical cult figure seemingly come back to life.

But all may not be lost, at least not more than periodically, in this fresh and nearly flawlessly conceived yarn. That is, when a combo earthy nymph (Zoe Kravitz) with kindred amphibious desires releases her inner mermaid at the local swimming pool, and braces for unorthodox romance. In a story whose far fetched flights of fancy stay pretty much afloat, grounded in genuinely grounded if whimsically spun emotions.

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Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.