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1 review, 9 user ratings

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Waterdance, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"A movie about the handicapped that's refreshingly free of artifice and pap."
4 stars

"What’s it about?" is generally what a person thinks when choosing a new movie to watch. If the response were "It’s about a trio of racially diverse paraplegics coming to terms with their handicaps", you’d probably dismiss the movie as a warmed-up disease of the week TV-movie. And if that synopsis prevented you from giving "The Waterdance" a fair shake, you’d be robbing yourself of a damn good movie.

Joel Garcia (Eric Stoltz) is enjoying a somewhat heated affair with his married girlfriend Anna (Helen Hunt) when he suffers a brutal injury: during a rock-climbing expedition, he experiences a nasty fall and effectively damages part of his spinal cord. Waking up in a hospital to discover that he’ll never walk again, Joel is understandably distraught and finds his plight more than a little difficult to deal with. Adding to his anguish is the fact that Anna, while still clearly in love with the stricken writer, seems a lot less likely to leave her husband now that Joel is looking at a lifetime of paralysis. (The fact that Anna never once seems callous or uncaring in these decisions is just one example of how well shaded Jimenez' screenplay is.)

Once the most critical moments of Joel's injury have passed, the unfortunate guy now has to contend with a painstaking regiment of physical therapy. It's at this rehabilitation ward that Joel meets a few similarly injured patients, regular Joes who just happened to end up on the wrong end of some tragic accidents. Raymond (Wesley Snipes) is a self-professed Lothario who constantly seeks to redeem his existence through his previously amazing skills with the ladies, and Bloss (William Forsythe, offering possibly the finest performance in a movie full of them) is a venomous biker, one whose racist and hateful exterior may be protecting a sweeter disposition underneath…maybe not. That these three unlucky guys will form a tentative kinship comes as no surprise; that it makes for such a satisfying movie is.

Again, if the trio of racially balanced patients seems a bit precious, it only seems that way until you see these three guys acting together. The ferocity of the performances combined with a screenplay that eschews treacle or cliché at every turn create a film that may sound like something trite or familiar, but the truth is simply this: The Waterdance may be one of the finest movies ever made about the plight of the recently physically handicapped. This is not a "cripples are people too" flag-waving affair; the filmmakers here wonderfully assume you already have the piece of logic already stored away somewhere.

Instead of big tear-strewn scenes of heartbreak and push-button emotions of the "Aw, those poor guys!" variety, The Waterdance delivers some stunningly touching and realistic moments - as if Jimenez had some first-hand experience with this sort of horrible injury. (Actually, he did; Jimenez based this film on his own horrific story of spinal injury, and the authenticity of the emotion and experience is more than palpable.) I suppose that’s what happens when you have a gifted writer telling a story from personal experience, as opposed to some hack culling together a melodrama about how sad it is to be crippled.

If you're looking for a little insight into how someone who's been there dealt with a paralyzing neck injury, or if you just want a well-crafted, well-acted and bittersweet movie about how normal people can (realistically) overcome even the worst personal tragedies, "The Waterdance" is certainly worthy of your time.

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originally posted: 05/04/04 12:26:28
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User Comments

11/25/06 Melissa Tokarczyk Very emotional movie. 3 stars
10/08/06 Linda Just saw it. Left a lasting impression in my mind.Excellent acting by all. Loved the steamy 5 stars
4/01/06 Tanya it was very eye opening 4 stars
12/02/04 typer Very good portrayal of what one with paralysis must face. 5 stars
1/05/04 tlitup thought provoking, finely crafted dialogue, superbly acted 4 stars
1/26/03 freak It had Helen Hunt nude. Nuff said. 5 stars
7/27/02 Zargo i remember it being good 4 stars
3/19/02 Butterbean A movie that could have depressed you but chose to stay in a light mood with great results 4 stars
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  02-May-1992 (R)



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