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How Deep is the Ocean

A W Pictures, 2023


Andrew Walsh

Reading Time:

6 minutes

How Deep is the OceanSepulveda (VXAQAGDAIRDQD7FB)
00:00 / 07:08

📷 : Used with permission, Andrew Walsh

How Deep is the Ocean


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Thought-provoking movies and TV shows


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You might have heard of a very successful film released in 1996, called Jerry McGuire, starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Renée Zellweger. Tom Cruise plays the title character, a self-absorbed sports agent who is left with just one client after being fired from his firm for writing a Mission Statement. The Statement contradicted the company’s values of being aggressive and even unethical in recruiting clients. A poignant scene during the story’s setup shows a dejected Maguire on the elevator, when he observes a deaf couple signing “You complete me” to one another. The stark contrast between the couple’s enthrallment and Cruise’s down-on-his-luck body language is quite hilarious. But this scene ignites wonderings about self-sabotage, much like Andrew Walsh’s indie film, How Deep is the Ocean.

Set in Melbourne, Australia, the improvisational film stars Cris Cochrane (My Cherry Pie, A Promise Carved in Flesh) and Olivia Fildes (Sunflower) as new roommates Roy and Eleanor, respectively.  Roughly in his late 40s/early 50s, Roy is gregarious, quick-witted, and a heavy drinker, while Eleanor, a late 20-something emigrant from Los Angeles, is nonchalant, broke, and lacking any short- or long-term plans for herself. Despite clear signs that Roy suffers from alcoholism, she agrees to rent a room from him in his home, leaving us perplexed about her decision. When he bursts into her bedroom drunk on her first night, she kicks him out and promptly returns to bed, seeming largely unfazed by the intrusion. Many of us would have responded quite differently, perhaps beating up the intruder and leaving the house at first light, if not that very moment.

Shortly after renting the room from Roy, Eleanor meets Matt, who takes a liking to her when he helps her get Roy settled after one of his benders. Matt even uses his influence to get Eleanor a job at the store where he works when she tells him she was fired from her restaurant job. She conveniently leaves out the part about spitting in the coffee of a rude customer. Despite Matt’s overtures, Eleanor opts instead for Roy’s friend, Charlie, played by Adam Rowland (Home and Away, Neighbors). Within minutes of meeting him, she promptly asks Charlie out to lunch. Upon learning that Charlie is married, she continues to pursue a relationship with him despite the likelihood that she will end up with a broken heart.

In case you are unfamiliar, improvisational films like How Deep is the Ocean lack a script, which means there is no (or minimal) prepared dialog. Think the long-running comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. The actors are guided by their character’s descriptions and interactions, along with a general understanding of the story’s flow. This lack of structure inevitably leads to awkward scenes, where something unplanned occurs and we anticipate a type of response that never transpires, much like the aforementioned bedroom encounter. There are several instances of such awkward scenes in the movie. 

During Eleanor’s and Charlie’s picnic on the beach, a bird comes into the frame as if beckoning for food. Instead of the couple shooing it away, they ignore the bird despite its persistent and continual encroachment of their space. Another example of similar unresolved anticipation occurs in the kitchen where Roy and Eleanor are having a casual conversation. Several times, the camera zooms on the sausage cooking in the skillet. We anticipate something funny will happen with the sausage but nothing does. The panning on the links (pun intended) has no import, which shows how even the film’s crew become a part of onscreen play in an unscripted production. They too are never sure what will happen in a scene. And like us, they anticipate some action which often never materializes.

There are also some incredibly funny and astounding moments that come out of the film’s improv. Eleanor drinks whisky at a job interview and eats the food she accidentally drops on the ground. Maybe the streets are cleaner in Australia than in the U.S., though. 

How Deep is the Ocean provides the feel of a bright, upbeat film. The 78-minute production is shot in warm, sunny weather, and the interactions among the characters are largely friendly and quippy. In addition to more than five sets, the film has a big cast which includes four main characters. It is rare to see this breadth of mise-en-scène and cast members in what the director, Andrew Walsh, describes as a micro budget film. We also see such largesse in the short film, Divertimento, where the 31-minute movie has more than 20 actors, some with name recognition (i.e. Kellan Lutz of FBI: Most Wanted and Torrey DeVitto of Chicago Fire fame). The film was set in a castle in France, which likely chewed up a significant piece of the budget. Still, what filmmakers are able to do with so few funds is impressive.

There are plenty of movies centering self-sabotaging protagonists. One such film is A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper as a successful but deeply unhappy musician who suffers from alcoholism. Another is Leaving Las Vegas with Nicholas Cage as an alcoholic who sets out to drink himself to death. There is also Uncut Gems where Adam Sandler plays a gambling addict who risks his family’s safety when he is unable to settle his debts. Finally, there’s Queen of Earth with Elizabeth Moss as a woman who resents her close friend and winds up descending into delusion. 

How Deep is the Ocean is neither dark or heavy, nor is it a film about addiction or mental illness. Its style and elements make it comparable to the mumblecore subgenre film, Drinking Buddies – improvisation, love angle, young adult focus, and all. Walsh’s indie is a bright story about a young person with no sense of direction in her life, and who repeatedly exacerbates this rudderlessness and lack of introspection with poor judgment and ill-advised decisions. 

How Deep is the Ocean makes us adults (young, old, and every age in between) consider why we self-sabotage in these ways. Why we exacerbate the challenges in our lives, making our experiences more unpleasant and our lives more onerous than need be. Why we tend toward something that risks our heart and sense of self, and against something that takes care of both. These are questions worth pondering for a moment or two as we engage in self-therapy. Perhaps How Deep is the Ocean gives us some insight.

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